BRASS: Jane Byrne and the Pursuit of Power by Kathleen Whalen FitzGerald

BRASS: Jane Byrne and the Pursuit of Power

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Jane Byrne may not be the nation's most oft-cited woman office holder any more, but author FitzGerald--who shares a common grounding in Catholic institutional politics and theology with Byrne, and a lace-curtain Irish upbringing--is well situated to explore something of continuing interest: the Irish Catholic political mind exemplified by Byrne and her father's family, the Burkes. She uses the career of one of the family's two priests, Monsignor Edward Burke, to argue that the experience of a Church education is a unique preparation for the unquestioning obedience and unquestioned authority which lay at the heart of the Daley machine in Chicago. Jane Byrne's personal journey into politics was set off by the early death of her husband, upon whom she'd been deeply dependent--and who left her feeling helpless and vulnerable. Byrne moved into politics, FitzGerald speculates, as a way of claiming power in her own right and insulating herself from any future personal calamity. Then, like so many other Irish Catholics of her generation, she was drawn into an active political life by the dazzling figure of JFK, to whom she was connected by mutual friends. She rose quickly from personnel director of a Head Start agency to Daley's fair-haired girl and Chicago's Consumer Commissioner. Indeed she was in many ways, says FitzGerald, a female Daley--a tough, disciplined loner, ready to exercise power (and use people) without the slightest remorse. Dumped by the machine after Daley's death, she exploited her exclusion from the seats of power to rally a coalition of Chicago's outsiders--blacks, Latins, women, etc.--to defeat Michael Bilandic, Daley's lackluster successor. Once in office, however, she quickly dropped the people who helped elect her and tried to take over the old machine. In FitzGerald's words, ""The King was dead, long live the Queen."" Part biography, part portrait of Irish Catholic political life--and interestingly, engrossingly different from the Grangers' Fighting Jane (1980).

Pub Date: May 1st, 1981
Publisher: Contemporary Books