Rename Navy Pier after Jane Byrne
Jane Byrne was a very controversial and contentious Chicago Mayor, but she also is responsible for several brilliant achievements, including being the spark that revived the city’s lakefront Jewel, Navy Pier. It’s time that her legacy be given its due and she be recognized for her efforts. Name Navy Pier after the late Mayor Jane M. Byrne.
By Ray Hanania
I was in the studios of WBEZ Radio reminiscing with reporters on the politics that made it possible for Barack Obama to become America’s first Black President.
I kind of liked Obama, but I don’t believe that Obama rose on the struggle of African Americans in politics, led by many including most important the late Mayor Harold Washington.
Washington became Chicago’s first Black Mayor purely as a result of luck. He had run for mayor before and didn’t do very well, but in 1983, he threw his hat in the confusion of the 1978-79 mayor election and beat out two selfishly focused rivals, Richard M. Daley and Mayor Jane M. Byrne.
But the conversations we taped also made me think about how under-respected Byrne really was.
Yes, it’s true, I was not her favorite reporter and I was constantly in conflict with her and her administration. That was the nature of the politics at the time. I had drank and believed all the BS about Richie Daley, and had certainly been used by his team. And Jane Byrne also was responsible for the conflict, making many of her decisions based on personality issues, anger and suspicion.
Before arriving at WBEZ last week, I had gone through my own cassette tape collection of interviews I did with all of the mayors, starting with Michael A. Bilandic, Byrne, and Washington.
The tapes on Bilandic really provide an eye-opener about the arrogance of the Chicago Democratic Machine. TheMachine just didn’t want to believe it could lose, even though in the days before the February 1979 Democratic primary with Byrne, it was clear to insiders Bilandic was a goner.
That accounted for his desperation when he spoke to two gatherings of the Machine’s precinct captains in early February at the Bismarck Hotel on Randolph and LaSalle Streets. Bilandic said he was being persecuted the same way they persecuted the Shah of Iran and Jesus Christ.
Bilandic was also always very reserved in his demeanor but in trying to rally the captains reminding them that a lot was at stake for the Machine and the city, he let his emotions go and his voice cracked often.
I listened to interviews with Byrne as she went from a reformer to ally of the “Evil Cabal of Men” that she campaigned against to win the election. The confrontational tone she had, I guess was justified because of the constant harangue from all of the news media, including this minor community newspaper player.
That battle overshadowed the many great things she did, including reviving Navy Pier, where WBEZ studios are now located on the 2nd floor. The NPR station used to have studios on Clark street south of City Hall in the “Crow’s Nest” – you would take an elevator to the top floor of the building then walk up two flights to the old WBEZ studios.
It made me think that Navy Pier really should be renamed in her honor. She did a lot to change things.
Obama is getting his Library on Chicago’s East Side near his home. But Obama rose on his own luck and his election really had nothing to do with Washington’s success in getting more votes than Byrne or Daley in 1983.
Had Jack Ryan not dropped out of the race for the U.S. Senate and the Republicans chosen someone more credible than African American gadfly Alan Keyes, Obama would never have won in 2004.
Obama had the talent and was a great orator, but it wasn’t until unpredictable luck fell in his lap and he skyrocketed to fame.
Yet, I still can’t forget how hard others worked with very little recognition for their efforts. Byrne deserves more than a confusing expressway intersection. Now that Daley is out of office and his hate of her out of the way, the city should look at her history and rename Navy Pier in her honor.
It’s the right thing to do.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist, author and former Chicago City Hall reporter. Email him at email@example.com.)
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