Remembering Great Chicago Mayors, not just one
Chicago Mayor Harold Washington would have turned 100 years old this month and was remembered widely for his achievements in leading the African American community. But few media remember the woman to break through the Chicago Democratic Machine, opening the door to Washington and others, Mayor Jane M. Byrne. Unlike Washington, who won the Democratic primary with only 36.28 percent of the vote, Jane Byrne defeated Michael A. Bilandic with 51.04 percent of the vote or 412,909 votes in the Democratic Primary, a solid win and victory.
By Ray Hanania
There is no doubt that a bias exists in the mainstream news media when it comes to Chicagoland politics.
For example, last week would have been Chicago Mayor Harold Washington’s 100th Birthday, had he not died of poor health and eating habits on Nov. 25, 1987.
I covered Washington from the day he announced his candidacy on a WBEZ panel, when no one else believed he could win, to his death, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
Mayor Washington, Chicago’s first Black Mayor, was a decent person who helped empower African Americans. He had a great sense of humor. And although you might have thought there was always great tension between Washington and the so-called “Vrdolyak 29” which stripped him of much of his council powers for his first term, the reality was the two sides got along great.
Washington was a politician first who became an iconic Black leader as a result of the election in 1983 when Cook County State’s Attorney Richard M. Daley and then Mayor Jane M. Byrne split the White vote.
Chicago was, is and always will be a city of ethnicity and racial identity no matter how anyone spins it.
But, it always amazes me how little time the mainstream news media spends on the legacy left by Jane Byrne.
Byrne was a real fighter. She won the 1979 election by building up a popular vote. Washington won with only a plurality of only 36.28 percent of the 1.2 million votes cast in the city. Byrne received 33.64 percent and Daley received 29.65, in the Democratic Primary election. But in her first election, the Democratic Primary, Byrne unseated Michael A. Bilandic winning 51.04 percent of the vote, or 412,909 votes. It was an astonishing achievement.
Byrne had to fight for her mayoralty, unlike Washington who won because two more powerful Democrats split the vote. I know because I was one of the City Hall reporters who actually worked at City Hall, all day every day of the week.
Byrne and I didn’t always get along though. She mistrusted me because I worked for a newspaper based in Daley’s Southwest Side community. Irish politicians were divided between Northside and Southside. Daley talked to me, and Byrne rarely did.
Yet, despite that natural conflict in any reporter’s coverage of a mayor (except recently under the racist former Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the incompetent Mayor Lori Lightfoot, where there seems to be little conflict coverage at all), Jane Byrne achieved many, many more things than all of them put together.
Byrne defeated the machine, but eventually she became the Machine.
She did much, focusing the city on the needs of the neighborhoods, on the schools and the business community. Byrne put the plight of subsidized housing and the poor on the map when she moved into Cabrini Green for a week. I’ll write more about her achievements in future columns.
Jane Byrne was the first woman Mayor Chicago has ever had, and she was the best. She deserves to be remembered, too, as much as any Chicago mayor. Not enough has been done.
THE POLITICAL GRAPEVINE: More than 980,000 Americans have died from the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, including one of the first in Chicagoland, Arab American publisher Mansour Tadros who died on March 28, 2020 … Bedford Park Mayor David Brady was the guest at the monthly meeting of the United Business Association (UBAM) urging continued plans for the 65th Street business corridor, organized by Anita Cummings.
ARAB AMERICAN HERITAGE MONTH: while the world focuses on war crimes against Ukraine by Russia, few pay attention to the escalating violence by Israel against Palestinians. In the nearly 3 weeks after three Israelis were killed in Tel Aviv, Israelis have killed more than 24 Palestinians including 47-year-old widowed mother of six, Ghada Sabateen, shot near Bethlehem and who has many American relatives. She was shopping for Ramadan … The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) hosts an online workshop with the American Arab Chamber of Commerce president Hassan Nijem to help Arab American businesses identify and apply for grants and funds. More than 150 Arab businesses were forcibly closed last summer for four months by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot in a racist and misguided move to reduce street gang violence. Go to the DCEO Facebook Page to watch … Ald. Gilbert Villegas and Raymond Lopez will host public forum on Mayor Lightfoot’s racist crackdown on Arab businesses May 9, at 11 AM at the Islamic Community Center of Illinois 6435 W. Belmont. … Don’t forget to list to my live Radio show in Detroit, Washington D.C., Ontario Canada, on Wednesday at 5 PM EST, and in Chicago in rebroadcast on Thursday at 12 noon on WNWI 1080 AM radio.
CONGRESSIONAL CAMPAIGNS: (Updated April 22) In the 6th District Democratic race Sean Casten has raised $2.7 million and spent $1,019,408 while Marie Newman has raised 1.3 million and spent $810,080. On the Republican side, Gary Grasso leads raising $350,486 and spent $40,887. Keith Pekau has raised $268,413 and spent $98,321 while former ally and popular rival Scott Kaspar raised $177,049 and spent $151,321. Rob Cruz raised $150,009 and spent $116,156. Niki Conforti raised $61,079 and spent $51,708 … In the 3rd District Democratic race, Gilbert Villegas has raised $781,979 and spent $183,014, Delia Ramirez has raised $419,977 and spent $97,264, Iymen Chehade has raised $90,012 and spent $36,159. In the Republican race, Justin Burau raised $15,364 and spent $14,292, and Juan Agguire raised $11,172 and spent $10,752.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter. A political analyst and CEO of Urban Strategies Group, Hanania’s opinion columns on mainstream issues are published in the Southwest News Newspaper Group in the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News, The Reporter Newspapers. His Middle East columns are published in the Arab News. For more information on Ray Hanania visit www.Hanania.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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