We've had the first real snowfall of the season. Today we remember the blizzard of January 13, 1979. It was Saturday the Thirteenth that year. But the storm proved unlucky for one Chicago mayor.
The snow came down all that Saturday. When it stopped on Sunday morning, 20.3 inches had fallen.
The Blizzard of 1967 had dumped 23 inches of snow in a 24-hour period. The new storm didn't break that record. However, in 1979 there was already 9 inches sitting on the ground, making the snow cover nearly 30 inches.
And on January 14, the wind kicked up and the bottom fell out of the thermometer. The low temperature was 14-below-zero. The wind chill dropped to 49-below. Those were records for that particular date.
Still, Chicago was lucky in two ways. Unlike 1967, the storm had come on a weekend. Monday was also a holiday, Martin Luther King Day. The city would have plenty of time to clean things up.
Michael Bilandic was the mayor. He was running for re-election. As soon as the snow began falling, he was all over TV, talking about the wonderful job his administration was doing in this weather emergency.
Trouble was, the snow was not getting cleared. Days went by. A week went by. The City That Works wasn't working.
Sun-Times columnist Mike Royko blamed the mayor and his payrollers. According to Royko, city crews didn't know how to deal with the snow because their skills were too specialized--specialized in cranking out votes at election time. That was the real job of city employees.
Then the CTA started running many "L" trains express, skipping lightly-used inner city stations to keep on schedule. That was fine for the people in the suburbs, but they didn't vote in Chicago.
The people standing frozen on the platforms while the "L" trains roared past them--they were city voters. Besides that, most of these neglected patrons were African American. Was the mayor being racist?
Bilandic was being challenged in the Democratic primary by Jane Byrne. Now Byrne began hammering the mayor about snow removal. In one of her commercials she was filmed at an "L" station with snowflakes falling around her.
Six weeks after the blizzard, Byrne upset Bilandic in the primary. She then went on to win the general election and become the 50th Mayor of Chicago.
Today many old-time Chicagoans argue about which blizzard was worse, 1967 or 1979. Each storm has its fierce partisans, much like the Sox and the Cubs. As for myself, I lived through both storms, and have always considered 1967 the worst.
But then, I wasn't running for mayor.