When the going gets tough, remember Jane Byrne | Bleader

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

When the going gets tough, remember Jane Byrne

Posted By on 10.15.14 at 03:30 PM

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Mayor Rahm at this mornings City Council special meeting
  • Al Podgorski/Sun-Times Media
  • Mayor Rahm at this morning's City Council special meeting
Like a Roman emperor who had just conquered the world, Mayor Rahm strode before the City Council this morning for his annual budget address—all he needed was a toga.

"My fellow Chicagoans," he began. "I own you! You're mine!"

OK, he didn't actually say that. But I wouldn't blame him for thinking it. The man's never looked more invulnerable.

My morning newspapers were filled with stories trumpeting his triumphs.

On the front page of the Sun-Times was a big, color picture of discarded "Karen Lewis for Mayor" buttons. The headline read: "What now? Lewis leaves a would-be movement without a standard-bearer."

Just in case we'd forgotten.

Inside were stories recounting how Mayor Rahm had scared off Toni Preckwinkle and all the other big-name challengers. Until all that were left was Alderman Robert Fioretti and a cast of unknowns who haven't a chance of beating our mighty mayor.

They even quoted Alderman Howard Brookins—a mayoral loyalist—who bragged that once Rahm's propaganda machine kicked into gear, black voters would practically be thanking the mayor for closing all those schools and begging him to close some more.

Finally, there was an account of last night's governor's debate, during which Bruce Rauner—the mayor's old pal and business associate—all but promised that, if elected, he'd give Rahm his casino.

I guess we can figure out who the mayor really backs in Rauner's run against Governor Pat Quinn.

They say it's always darkest before the dawn. If so, it's pitch black out there, people—and the mayor's unplugged the street lamps and thrown away the bulbs.

So allow me to be that little ray of sunshine amid the gloom.

I will now go to my bookcase and pluck from a shelf an ancient tome I turn to at bleak moments like this . . .

The Wit and Wisdom of Rodney Dangerfield.

"Last week I told my wife, 'If you would learn to cook, I could fire the chef.' She said, 'If you could learn to make love, I could fire the chauffeur.'"

Wait, wrong book. But Rodney always cheers me up when I'm feeling blue.

I really mean Fighting Jane by Bill and Lori Granger.

It tells the story of the 1979 mayoral election when Jane Byrne, then an unknown who'd never been elected to office, took on Mayor Michael Bilandic and the mighty Democratic machine.

My favorite part comes on page 202, where the Grangers describe the smug cockiness of Bilandic's supporters in the early part of that campaign.

"They were amused and contemptuous of Jane Byrne's lonely race against the power of the Machine," the Grangers wrote. "Alderman Eddie Burke [yes, that alderman Burke] told his captains that Jane reminded him of his Aunt Bessie, always fussing . . . When they met together with their shiny suits and big cigars, they made jokes about the 'menopausal bitch' who was going through her change of life in public."

Say what you will about Mayor Rahm, at least he's never called Alderman Fioretti a "menopausal bitch." At least not that I know of.

Against all odds, Jane Byrne won that election. And now everyone—including Alderman Eddie Burke—is rushing to pay her tribute.

Just like Mayor Rahm's tried to say something nice about Karen Lewis.

If a political miracle can happen once, here's hoping one can happen again.

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