Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne has thrown this city's residents some surprise curves in the past. But none has left them quite so stunned as her announcement over the weekend that she would move temporarily into a violence-plagued, low-income public housing project on the city' near north side.
Some 10 people have been killed and 37 wounded in and around the Cabrini-Green housing project's 81 buildings in the last three months.
Much of the trouble is said to be closely tied to rivalry between two gangs led by ex-convicts for control of drug trafficking and prostitution. Many tenants pay weekly survival money and have been afraid to report any criminal activity they witness.
The mayor and her husband, Jay McMullen, plan to make the 10-block move from their posh Chestnut Street high-rise in the next several days. The mayor has vowed to stay "as long as it takes to clean it up" so that the estimated 15,000 residents of the project can live in safety and security.
"Her major concern is to help residents in public housing overcome the fear they live with," confirms mayoral press aide Robert Saigh.
Initially, many here were skeptical about the wisdom of her move and her intentions. some local aldermen and state representatives dismissed the decision as a strictly political move.
But some early critics now have changed their views, saying the major is accompanying her plan with service improvements ranging from a beef-up of an around-the-clock police contingent to strong support of Chicago Housing Authority efforts to evict 800 tenants for such violations as nonpayment of rent and possession of illegal weapons and drugs.
"When I first heard about it, I thought it was politics as usual," says Jesse White, the Democratic state representative from the Cabrini-Green area. He now calls the major's decision a "bold move" that could lead to a cleanup of Cabrini-Green. He says it is the scope of actions accompanying her physical move that could make all the difference.