Interview with Jane Byrne

OK, Ms. Byrne, if you could just start with putting yourself in the Daley Administration--


The first time that I ever met with ah, Mayor Daley was back in 1963, '64. And ah, I had been in an event that h--and ah, had seen him and had been introduced to him. And he invited me to come down to his office. And the reason that he did invite me to come down to his office is that I had been very active as a paid staff member in the John Kennedy campaign of 1960. And I really was not getting involved in politics or anything. I just liked John Kennedy and what he stood for. And I believed very strongly in this walk across the New Frontier. So this was after he was dead. He died, as you know, un-unexpectedly, and this was an event that took place at our parish ah, very shortly after John Kennedy had died. And after I was introduced to the Mayor, it was at his request that I came down to see him. So I went there and I sat in his office and I, I felt very flattered. You know, here I am sitting in Mayor Daley's office. And the very first thing that he said to me is, "Why did you go them?" And I didn't even know who he meant. And I said, "To whom? What?" And he said, "Why did you go to them? Why did you go to the Kennedys and not us?" And I was not from "The Machine." I hadn't been schooled in it. And I didn't know that us meant them. And so I said, "Well who do you mean?" He said, "Why, the Democratic Party of Cook County." And I looked at him, you know. I was really surprised because I thought this was going to be a rather nice meeting. And he said to me, "What can they do for you? What did they do for you?" And I looked at him again and I said, "Well, I wasn't really looking for anything." I said, "I just believed in the man." And he looked at me and he said, "We have a speaker's bureau. We could have promoted you all over the, all over the city, all over the county." I said, "I wasn't looking to be promoted." He then said to me, "Did they offer you a job?" And I said back, "No, but" I said, "They wrote a letter of recommendation to you over a year ago that I have if I wanted to this, I, I didn't know what I wanted to do." And he's--I said, "They offered me a job in Washington with Sarge Schreiber [SIC]. " But I said, "You know, my daughter's only three and I didn't want to move her." Well, that took him back a little bit. And then he looked at me again and he said, ah, "Are you interested in government, politics?" And I said, "I might be, yes." I said, "I might be." And I said, "But ah, I don't know yet. I really--" And he went on again to talk about the powers of this Democratic organization. And then the next thing he said is, "People call it a machine, you know. And it's no more a machine than General Motors is a machine." He said, "General Motors," he said, "Why they have a structure and an organization. And that's what we have. They sell a product, so do we. We sell candidates." And I said--So then I thought, Oh, he's a little defensive here. He thinks that the words that used to go around that the Kennedys had opened this office because they looked down on the machine, he bought it. He believed it. I'm, I'm at least thinking that. And so, and there was a lot of talk about that. In fact, it took Joe Kennedy to come in here personally and intervene to get a Kennedy headquarters in Chicago. And there was a lot of friction between the two organizations throughout Kennedy's campaign. But it was always over control and power. And so I finally you know, I'm Irish myself. And I looked at him and I said, "You know, do you have anything else you want to talk about now?" And he said, "No." He said, "I just wondered and, if you wanted me to, to sort of look after you or something I, I would be very happy to." And he said, "But you got to make up your mind." He said, "I can put you on anything. I can put you on committees. I can appoint you." And he said, but he said, "You know, are you against the machine?" And I said, "I don't even know it." Then he said to me, "Are you adverse to ringing doorbells and--" And I said, "Well, I've never done that." And he looked at me again and he said, ah, "Do you know how to do it?" And I said, "Well, no." He said, "Well, it's all people. It's your neighbors. You just go to your neighbors, you ring the bell and you say, 'Hello, can I come in and talk to you about some of the candidates'?" And he went on to tell me how you do it. He said, "Would you dislike doing that?" Now you have to understand, I was not prepared for this conversation. And I said, "No, I, I don't have any grudges against this organization." And he said to me, "What ward do you live in?" And honest to God, I didn't know. I, I sort of was like ah, I said, "I live in Sauganash." And he said, "That's the 39th ward." And I said, "Well, that's where I live." And so then he looked at me and said, "Well you go over and you introduce yourself to the ward committeeman." And he said, ah, "You can tell them I suggested you go." I said, "Well, all right. I'll, I'll do that." And so then I did. And he said, "Be a volunteer." So I went and became a volunteer. And you know, it was, I wasn't really in like the rest were. I wasn't a job holder. I wasn't--I was a volunteer. But I went to some of their events and I went to the big convention in Springfield, ah, Democrat Day. And I sort of liked it. I mean, I sort of liked--I knew where I fit, which was nowhere, but I sort of liked it anyway. And, but before that day ended you know, as I'm getting ahead of myself, he turned back and he went on to tell me that if he did appoint me and I didn't go to that organization, they'd get me. I said, "Who'd get me?" He said, "They'll get you." And of course, Daley is famous for not--You have to almost think what he's means. And he said, "They've been in it a long time. You know, they've been ahead of you a long, long time." I said, "Who?" He said, "The precinct captains." He said, "That's why I'm telling you. If you'd come to us, we could have gotten you known." And he said, "So I can't appoint you." He said, "I have the power, but they'll get you. You go on out and ring those doorbells." Then he went right back to this Kennedy scene about they didn't take care of their people, but the machine did. And that if I did these things, he was--It was all this you know, difference between the two. And frankly, he bugged me. You know. And I took a good look at him and I said, "You know, I wanted to come here. But you know, I think I'm sorry I came here." I said, "You know, I re--I think I am sorry I came here." I said, "You and I have nothing at all in common." I said, "I do want you to think for a minute that I did not know that there was an antipathy between the Kennedy headquarters and the Democratic machine." I said, "I don't want you to think for a second that I wasn't aware when you would change everything that we did overnight, when the Kenne--when Kennedy's plane would be changed where it was going to land because you hadn't decided." I said, "I knew those things." I said, "I didn't think much of those things." And I said, "But now, you're bringing it up now. And it means it's still on your mind." And I said, "I find that hard to believe." And I said, "But I have come to the wrong place." And he's--looked at me and he said, "What does that mean?" I said, "It means he's dead." And I said, "This conversation has made me think, Why did I go and work for him?" And I said, "I went to work for him because I believed in him." And I said, "I'll tell you. It was a very close election. And everybody says you did it and everybody said you produced. But I'll tell you, if we got one vote, two votes or three votes, then I got out of it exactly what I wanted to get out of it. I saw John Kennedy become the President of the United States. That's what I wanted. That's what I got. I wasn't looking for anything else." With that, his chair went back. Now, I mean, I can really be angry when I'm angry. His chair went back and it hit the wall. It was pretty close to the wall--