Former Mayor Jane Byrne deserves more recognition
With a rising awareness of the importance of the role of women in society, government, politics and the need to continue to champion equality for the sexes, remembering one of the pioneers of women in politics in Chicago is important. Jane Byrne deserves more recognition as Chicago’s first female mayor. Women deserve to be treated equally, fairly and recognized for overcoming the imbalance that favors men
By Ray Hanania
Now that Chicago has a woman mayor, maybe it’s time that the gender discrimination against former Mayor Jane M. Byrne should be lifted and the first woman mayor in a major city should be better honored.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has tapped her personal concerns to fuel support for major social movements for the LGBT community and for African Americans. But as a woman, Lightfoot has a responsibility to ensure women are given their due in a world where men still dominate their lives.
Illinois was the first state to ratify the 19th Amendment 100 years ago on June 10, giving women the right to vote. The 19th Amendment was ratified a year later becoming law on August 26, 1920.
However, just because you have a Constitutional Amendment doesn’t really mean much if the people in power are reluctant to embrace it. Despite giving women the right to vote, women still trailed men in nearly every other aspect of society, including today where data shows that women earn only 80 cents for every dollar earned by men.
While there is a big push to raise the minimum wage, Illinois and Chicago especially rank among the worst states and cities when it comes to treating working women equally.
Yet Chicago has elected two women now as Chief Executive officers of the nation’s 3rd largest city. Chicago used to be the second largest city but increasing crime and increasing taxes have forced many Chicagoans to flee the city to safer and less expensive suburban communities.
Jane Byrne’s name should be everywhere. There have been many women elected mayor in cities across the country, but Byrne deserves to be remembered and honored in a big way. It’s a little too ironic and insulting that Byrne’s memory is hallowed in a congested interchange that brings together three major expressways that are all named in honor of men: The Dan Ryan Expressway, the John F. Kennedy Expressway, and the Dwight D. Eisenhower Expressway.
I have a lot of ideas for naming rights for Jane Byrne.
State Street should be renamed Jane Byrne Street. Byrne did more than any other mayor to restore the popularity of State Street during her four-year term as mayor.
Taste of Chicago should be renamed the Jane Byrne Chicago Festival. Although restauranteur Arnie Morton came up with the idea, Mayor Byrne was the person who made it happen. The festivals does more to generate revenues for clout-heavy food establishments than to showcase Chicago’s energy.
O’Hare Airport should be renamed Jane Byrne International Airport. It’s a naming that would be of prominent distinction and remind women and men around the world of the strides women have made in America leading the freedoms that are still slowly trickling down to women in other countries.
Byrne’s daughter Kathy says it wouldn’t be appropriate to rename O’Hare for her mother, pointing out that it is named in honor of a war hero. And rather than renaming Taste of Chicago, she felt her mother was instrumental in launching both the Jazz Festival and the Blues Festival.
I think Byrne is the most under-recognized politician in Chicagoland’s history and I think it is driven by petty politics and a lack of education on the part of the politicians who have followed in her trailblazing path.
Byrne was definitely contentious and the mainstream news media, which included myself back when she served as mayor from 1979 through 1983, were often unfair to her. Byrne represented a new style of internal Machine politics which made for great confrontational stories.
But all that is meaningless today in the shadow of a history that should be recognized as a major part of Chicagoland’s past.
Jane Byrne even deserves a statue someplace downtown, probably at Navy Pier which she spent many years rebuilding and re-energizing.
If the Chicago Historical Society at the Chicago History Museum wasn’t so biased and narrow in their partisan focus on the city’s history – they have excluded so many important aspects of Chicago including the history of Arab American settlement in the city (they call all Arabs “Muslims – pathetic) – they might even try to arrange a special exhibit showcasing Jane Byrne’s achievements for women.
It’s especially important to consider given the fact that Chicago has again elected a woman mayor against a tide of challenges that continue to confront women in our society.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and political columnist. This column was originally published in the Southwest News Newspaper Group in the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News, The Reporter Newspapers. For more information on Ray Hanania visit www.Hanania.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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