Interview with Jane Byrne

Yep. Talk about public housing and your approach.


Ah, my approach to public housing was ah, it wasn't all to be to the, the projects as you know them. My approach was to make, fulfill the commitments that I had made on bad housing, yank it down and build new housing. And if you were to drive out to 63rd and, and ah, Ashland, you would see block after block after block of what went up under me. Ah, it, it's quite beautiful. It was ah, federally funded and city funded with churches. And it's single family housing, and it is my real belief in ah, for the poor that they not be in these high rises. The issue of moving into Cabrini Green, there were two issues basically as I recall it. One, during the campaign of '79 when I was on Division Street, close to Christmas--before I won, right before I won--ah, two young Black women came up to me--and they had babies in their arms--and they said, "Aren't you Jane Byrne?" And I said, "Yes." And they said, "We're going to vote for you." And I looked at them. Now they lived at Cabrini. And one of the little babies was you know, cold looking. And so I you know, sort of pulled the baby's foot. And I said, "Is Santa going to bring you--What's Santa going to bring you?" And the one looked at me caustically and she said, "We live in Cabrini Green and Santa doesn't come there." And that made a very big impression on me. Now, granted, ah, I knew what it was like to be an outer myself at the time. And it made a tremendous impression on me. And so after I won and was, it was amazing. We had to borrow the money, 75 thousand, to win the campaign to put commercials on. It's all we spent. And Bilandic spent two million. And the day after, everybody's coming to see you. The old way, you know. Well, they weren't coming to me, but they were not going to the committee and making contributions for the general election. And I got within, I bet you, two weeks. I think I was told seven hundred thousand dollars, not talking to anybody. And I thought of those two women a long time. And so when I became the mayor I made up my mind that every apartment would have a Christmas tree. And seeing that you know, the money was there, that's what I did. And we went from public housing project, every one of them, and every senior citizen center. And I think expended about four hundred thousand dollars. But I located the two girls at Cabrini. And they remembered. And they remembered that I had said that, if I won, the children would not grow up without a Christmas tree. So they all had them. And I rather enjoyed it. And I rather enjoyed taking all this money that was pouring in and doing something that I thought--Now this is just me, OK? M-Me personally. I knew what it was like to be on the outs. And I knew you're saying you could straighten up your lives when you're ten or twelve. But don't ever get or enjoy the things that other babies are enjoying, or the myth or the lure of the Santa or the tree. You know, you stay there and you, you make it on your own. And that was just me. Now maybe it's because I was a woman. I don't know. But I enjoyed doing that. And they enjoyed getting them. By the time of the campaign that was turned into she's buying votes in the projects, because after the first year you couldn't stop because then you would look bad. So we changed it to food, which was more, had more substance. And without even thinking that people would think it because it had come so much from the heart, every family instead then got a turkey for Christmas. Well, that was used against me in the heat of the campaign. If you said to me am I glad I gave them the turkey? Yeah, I'm glad I did. If you said to me am I happy and am I happy to this day, when I go by those projects and I see little Christmas trees in the window, am I happy that those children had one? Yes, I am. If people didn't like it, I'm sorry. But those that received it liked it and wanted it. Those that--didn't like it and thought it was a put-down, I understand their position. But would I have done it the same way? Yes I would have--