CHICAGO — Jane Byrne, Chicago’s first and so-far only female mayor, died at age 81 on Friday, according to city officials.
The cause of her death was not immediately known, but her daughter told the Chicago Tribune she had been in hospice care amid failing health.
“Mayor Byrne was a Chicago icon who lived a remarkable life of service to our city,” current Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement.
A snowstorm is credited with helping her sweep to power in 1979, when her predecessor, Michael Bilandic, was seen as mishandling the city’s response to the bad weather. She narrowly bested Bilandic in the Democratic primary, then beat the Republican contender by a wide margin.
Byrne was well known in the city for having moved into one of Chicago’s most infamous public housing projects, Cabrini-Green, for three weeks to bring attention to area crime. She also signed the city’s first ordinance against handguns, Emanuel said in his statement.
She ran for re-election but lost in the 1983 three-way Democratic primary to Harold Washington, who became Chicago’s first African-American mayor. The third contender in that race was Richard M. Daley, who was the son of former mayor Richard J. Daley and later became the city’s longest-serving mayor.