An unusually prominent front page story appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Sunday, June 22,1980. It reported details of Mayor Jane Bryne’s transition team report and revealed me to be an author of part of the previously secret study, as well as the immediate source of its startling revelations.
In June 1980, as Jane Byrne was starting her second year as Chicago’s first woman mayor, a strange media brouhaha briefly transfixed the city. She had become enraged at a Chicago Tribune story and in a fit of anger had banned the paper’s City Hall reporter from occupying space in the building’s press room. The article that triggered her wrath disclosed the details of a transition report she herself had commissioned after beating the remnants of the late Mayor Richard J. Daley’s fabled political machine by securing the nomination of the Democratic Party for mayor in the February 1979 Democratic primary election. Byrne had received the transition report shortly after she had won the general election the following April, but she and her staff had subsequently kept a lid on it.
How the report came to light, and my part in it, was a combination of highly unlikely circumstances. However, for all the ensuing media Sturm und Drang over the course of the next week, any telling of this story will always seem to some akin to Shakespeare’s Macbeth: just a tale “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
In retrospect, perhaps the story’s only lasting effect was to reinforce the public perception of Jane Byrne as trouble prone, often due to her own devices.
I would never have ended up in the middle of this particular to-do without the earlier political and writing engagements I had in Chicago after I wrapped up my three years in the Army in 1971. My involvement in the media train wreck relating to release of Byrne’s transition report had evolved naturally from my work in the 1970s with two liberal, non-machine politicians on Chicago’s north side, Dick Simpson and Bill Singer.