Chicago's Only Female Mayor Dead at 80

You can thank Jane Byrne for 'Blues Brothers'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 14, 2014 12:58 PM CST
Chicago's Only Female Mayor Dead at 80
In this Feb. 28, 1979, file photo, Jane Byrne smiles as election returns come in.   (AP Photo/Fred Jewell, File)

Jane Byrne, Chicago's first and only female mayor, died today at the age of 80. Byrne capitalized on Chicago's slow reaction to a snowstorm to score one of the biggest election upsets in the city's history. She famously beat Mayor Michael Bilandic in 1979 after his administration failed to clear streets fast enough after a blizzard. But during her term, she was branded with nicknames such as "Calamity Jane" as she speedily fired and hired people in such top jobs as police superintendent and press secretary. "It was chaos," Byrne herself acknowledged in a 2004 Chicago Tribune story, attributing many of the problems to her wresting power from the old-boy Democratic machine that had ruled the city for decades.

"Like the spaghetti in a pressure cooker, it was all over the ceiling," she said. However, Byrne was credited with changing the feel of the city. She started the popular "Taste of Chicago" festival and initiated open-air farmers markets. "The formula was basic: the more attractions, the more people, the more life for the city," she wrote in her 1994 book My Chicago. ''I vowed to bring back the crowds, to make Chicago so lively that the people would return to the heart of the city and its abandoned parks." It was Byrne who let John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd film The Blues Brothers in Chicago. She even granted Belushi's request to crash a car through a window at Daley Plaza, figuring loyalists of the late Richard J. Daley didn't like her anyway. (More Chicago stories.)

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