CITY HALL — Ald. Edward Burke proposed renaming several city sites for Jane Byrne, the first and only woman to serve as Chicago mayor.
The 14th Ward alderman rose toward the end of Wednesday's City Council meeting to propose renaming the plazas around Buckingham Fountain and the Water Tower for Byrne, as well as the international terminal at O'Hare Airport and the Grand Ballroom at Navy Pier.
Burke made clear he was not trying to name them all for Byrne, but rather labeled them "a number of suggestions." He said he would leave the final decision up to his colleagues in the City Council, but added that he wanted to find "a suitable commemoration" for the former mayor, who served in office from 1979 to 1983.
Burke said on the council floor he wanted to "recognize the contributions of the one and only female mayor of Chicago."
Byrne, now 81, has been reported to be in failing health, and Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed, who served as Byrne's press secretary for six months, has led a recent push to have her recognized.
Byrne's daughter, Kathy, called her mother "one of the original trailblazers," adding, "Any type of honor or recognition that the city deems appropriate would be a wonderful inspiration to women and especially young women ... that they can be a mayor or a president. It is not a matter of breaking the glass ceiling, it is to say there is no ceiling — and I believe she is an example of that."
"In retrospect, it seems Jane Byrne chose her allies wisely," said Gary Rivlin, author of "Fire on the Prairie," a book on Mayor Harold Washington, who unseated Byrne in 1983.
"Ed Burke came in handy when she was running as an outsider and she named him as a ringleader among the 'cabal of evil men' doing a 'devious and dishonorable' job of running City Hall. Not six months into her underdog victory, he was among her closest allies — and apparently he’s still proving a loyal ally who's still getting stuff done for her, even at age 81."
Despite her campaign criticism of Burke and others, Byrne later endorsed Burke for Cook County state's attorney in his unsuccessful campaign against Richard M. Daley in 1980, and as mayor she relied on Burke and Ed Vrdolyak as her leaders in the council.
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