Interview with Jane Byrne

I would like to move forward now after Daley has died, 1979. Bilandic is mayor. You decide to run against Bilandic. What made you think you could beat him?


Well, before Mayor Daley died ah, Mayor Bilandic was an interim mayor after he died. But before he died he had had several strokes. And I was the co-chairman of the Democratic party. And I shared an office with him at Democratic headquarters. And I knew things weren't going the way they had gone prior to the stroke. I knew that the, whether people call the Grey Wolves, or the committeemen, or whatever they wanted, cliques were forming. And they were banding together and they were, they were really disregarding him quite a bit. He knew it. Those that were very close knew it. And it was a sad thing to watch. And it was also the beginning of major splits that would be there for good. I then, as the Commissioner of Consumer Affairs with the new Mayor, ah, got involved in something that I thought was wrong. And again, I decided this is not for me. And so ah, it blew into a big fracas in Chicago. And um, I, I don't know whether you'd say I was fired or quit. I had gone public ah, with a memo and it stated certain things that had taken place regarding a taxi increase that I thought were illegal, and I wouldn't participate. And I didn't like the clique that was surrounding ah, Mayor Bilandic. At the same time, I thought Mayor Bilandic was being used. And he hadn't been in the game the way it was really played. He had been an alderman not for very long. And he came from Bridgeport, the Home of the Mayors. And they had had the Office of Mayor at that time for maybe sixty years. And so it was sort of like he gets it. And ah, those around him ran it far more than he did. And so it was a coming together of all of these things. I wasn't going to stay and be part of it. Ah, I didn't think that he had all that it took to run it. I thought there was a lot of breaking down of what had been there. And I felt that this was the tip of the iceberg. The taxi rate increase to me was just a sign of all the rest of it. And I just felt I'll leave. And I had no intention of running for mayor. I thought I'll go do something else. But after it happened and I had become this instant celebrity, and I had had a lot of press. I mean, I had been the commissioner at that time for nine years. Co-chairman of the Democratic party, national committee member, re--Chairman of Resolutions of the National Committee. And I'd had a lot of press. But this was a different kind of press. And after it's over, once you turn on that machine, forget it. Forget what they're going to do to you. Forget what your family will have. Forget all of it. It's not nice. And it was sad because I'd been in it now for fourteen years. And I, ah, all of a sudden went to go Christmas shopping. And I wasn't feeling really gung-ho about the holidays. This happened at Thanksgiving. And wherever I went people would be going this way, or go get him. You know, and I'd be thinking to myself, go get him? Go, who? You know, and crowds would form. I left Marshall Fields because I had to get out of there, because I was down low getting candles, and I kept up and this crowd was around me. And they were all cheering me on. And it was like I don't know what these people think I can possibly do. You know. I am out. I am out, out, out. People would not speak to me that I, that had worked for me. They were afraid. And then a couple of very fine organizations, um, neighborhood organizations invited me to come and tell my side. Well, I didn't have much else to do. It was not going to be easy to get a job in Chicago. Ah, when you, when you take 'em on you're taking on the whole establishment. And so I went. I was very surprised. At one, down here on the Gold Coast, ah, after I had been invited and this group really wanted me, I was called in the afternoon and was, was told that this very social fancy club on the gold coast had asked them to please cancel. They did not want me to come. And you begin to feel very, oh my God. I'm like the scourge. Ah. And it was meant to be that way. And you were meant to be punished. But they fought, that club, and I got to speak. Well, what they were doing really ah, by--these mistakes is letting the people see what they were. And the press would come and cover it because here was the big issue--can she speak or can she not? And pretty soon it was growing. And finally, I thought, in the dark, coming into this building, which is in a very heavily trafficked neighborhood, I, I'd pull up my car and they'd say, "Go get him, Jane." So finally I took a poll. And it was very fragile, but you could see between the northwest side, the Black community and much of the lake front who didn't like to see a person treated like this, they were sympathetic. Didn't show I was going to win, but it showed my numbers were solid. So I thought about it and I decided I would go for it.


OK. We're going to stop down just for a moment here.