Blizzard of 1979: Thoughts from Michael Bilandic and Jane Byrne

FROM DECEMBER 2000—THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONTENT: We asked Byrne and Bilandic how the snowstorm affected the February mayoral primary.

Bilandic in 1979
Michael Bilandic during the blizzard in 1979

 

Chicago life slowed for two months when Acting Mayor Michael Bilandic responded ineffectively to the fable blizzard of January 1979. We asked Jane Byrne whether she would have won the February primary without the snowstorm. Yes. The snow was just a symptom of what was actually happening in City Hall at the time. After [Mayor Daley] had his stroke [in 1974], you could see the system begin to deteriorate terribly. I’m not blaming Bilandic for it; I’m not blaming anyone. But the fact remains that the usual smooth, seamless functioning of the Machine was breaking down, and City Hall was becoming a helter-skelter. The snow just proved what everyone had already come to know and see with their own eyes: that the system wasn’t working anymore and that people—a lot of people—wanted a change.

We asked Michael Bilandic whether he knew he would lose after the storm. Absolutely not. We thought we’d win it. We knew it would be close, but we thought we’d pull it out. In the end, God sent us 100 inches of snow in subzero weather, and I happened to lose and election because of it. Listen, one of the hardest things about being mayor is not getting there, but getting out of there. It was never my intention to be mayor forever, and the snow gave me a graceful way out. I was a victim of the snow, not of my operations or anything personal. I don’t grieve over it; in fact, life has been great since then. I always say that the greatest thing in my mayoral term was getting married.

 

Photograph: Chicago Tribune

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