September 17, 2014
A memorial — or two — is in the works to honor former Mayor Jane Byrne.
It’s unquestionably the right thing to do, leaving just one essential question for Chicagoans to consider:
Byrne broke not one but two barriers with her 1979 election as Chicago mayor.
Chicago’s first female mayor, Byrne also made history with her surprise win over the Democratic machine, the first time a candidate in modern times triumphed without the backing of party bosses.
As we said last month, after columnist Mike Sneed began the campaign to honor the ailing former mayor, it’s time to share Byrne’s legacy with her hometown. No matter how Byrne fared during her four-year term — her performance was decidedly mixed — Chicagoans deserve to learn from her trailblazing experiences.
Gov. Pat Quinn already plans to rename the Circle Interchange after Byrne this summer. The spot where the Kennedy, Dan Ryan and the Eisenhower expressways meet will become the Mayor Jane Byrne Interchange.
We’re all for it, but it’s not enough — especially since the name of the interchange, even after its been fully revamped, might regularly roll off frustrated drivers’ tongues with more than a trace of anger.
Ald. Ed Burke got the ball rolling this week on a second site by offering up four locations. Other ideas are welcome, he says. A hearing will follow, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel also says he’s working on honoring Byrne.
Here’s our take on the four re-naming ideas Burke proposed, judged in part on whether they go alongside the interchange plan:
◆ Buckingham Fountain. That’s a non-starter. The iconic fountain in Grant Park is inextricably bound with its name. The fountain was donated to the city in 1927 by philanthropist Kate Buckingham in honor of her brother Clarence.
◆ The Water Tower Plaza surrounding the historic water tower on Michigan Avenue. We like it for it’s sentimental value. It’s near Byrne’s home, where her grandparents lived and is one of her favorite views.
◆ The Grand Ballroom at Navy Pier. May be too minor league. Relatively few people go to the ballroom, let alone notice the name. A more substantial space at the pier is worth considering. During her term, Byrne got the ball rolling on the revival of Navy Pier. The pier also was the site of the Chicago Fest music festival that started under Bilandic but flourished under Byrne.
◆ The International Terminal at O’Hare Airport. Worth considering, but it may be a bit much to name two transportation hubs after Byrne.
Our alternative: A park or memorial at the former Cabrini-Green public housing development. One of Byrne’s most memorable and impactful moves as mayor was the three-week period when she and her husband moved into the CHA development to call attention to the violence there. Though dismissed as a stunt, she focused attention where it was needed, driving down violence temporarily and paving the way for a police station that later opened there.
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