Burke’s brother urges him to retire from Council — and some rivals say he can’t win

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Ald. Edward M. Burke shown on a visit to City Hall in 2019. |

Fran Spielman/Sun-Times file

The brother of indicted Ald. Edward Burke (14th) on Wednesday urged the City Council dean to retire from politics next year rather than risk defeat in a ward redrawn to exclude his most favorable precincts.

“I hope he does what is best for them as a family: To take care of his health number one. To engage with his grandchildren,” said former state Rep. Dan Burke, D-Chicago.

“Do the math. Seventy-eight years old. Come on. When is enough enough? … They’ve had a long run. It’s not insulting to say there’s an end to everything. I would just hope that they would be happy in their later years engaging with their family.” 

Analysis bug

Analysis

Dan Burke speaks from experience. 

In March, 2018, he lost his seat in the Illinois House to Aaron Ortiz, a protégé of U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

At the time, big brother Ed had been charged only with attempted extortion, accused of shaking down a Burger King franchise owner for legal business and for a $10,000 campaign contribution to County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

Now, a federal judge has set a November 2023 trial date for Edward Burke on far more sweeping racketeering charges.

They include the alleged Burger King shakedown and three similar schemes chronicled by former Zoning Committee Chairman Danny Solis (25th), who spent two years wearing a wire on Burke.

Among those other alleged schemes: that Ed Burke tried to extort legal business from 601W Companies, developers of the Old Main Post Office, in exchange for his help with a variety of matters, including an $18 million tax-increment-financing subsidy, a $100 million tax break and help resolving issues with Amtrak and the city’s Department of Water Management.

In those recordings, an irritated Ed Burke, caught on tape, asks Solis, “Did we land the, uh, tuna?,” complains the “cash register has not rung yet” and states that, until he scores legal business, he was not “motivated to help the developer.”

“As far as I’m concerned, they can go f— themselves,” Ed Burke says.

In 2019, Edward Burke fought off the Burger King shakedown charges to win reelection with 54% of the vote. To do that, the famously-proud politician had to humble himself, ringing doorbells in the Southwest Side ward he has served since his father’s death in 1969.

Ald. Ed Burke listens to tributes from his colleagues at City Hall, as he is recognized for 40 years of service as a Chicago alderman on March 18, 2009.

| Jean Lachat/Sun-Times file

If he chooses to seek reelection to a record 15th term — including the two-year term served after a special election to fill the vacancy created by Joseph Burke’s death — Edward Burke must find a way to survive in a ward re-drawn to reflect the 2020 U.S. Census.

In the compromise ward map approved by the City Council to avoid a costly referendum battle, about a third of the 14th Ward is different, and its voting-age population is now 87% Latino, up from 81%.

“The 14th Ward previously went into Garfield Ridge, a more conservative white area west of Cicero by Midway [Airport]. And now, it’s completely out. … Burke lost his most favorable precincts in Garfield Ridge. … Those precincts are now in the 23rd Ward [of Ald.] Silvana Tabares,” said Frank Calabrese, the veteran mapmaker who carved out the boundaries for the Latino Caucus. 

“Burke still has $12 million in his bank account. He has remnants of an organization. He could still win. But it would be unlikely that he could beat someone like Aaron Ortiz, who already beat Burke as the committeeman.” 

Initially, Rules Committee Chair Michelle Harris (8th), who doubles as Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s City Council floor leader, sided with Burke, citing seniority. 

Only after the Latino Caucus “pushed back” and went public with its claim that Harris and attorney Mike Kasper were, as Calabrese put it, “giving Burke his dream ward,” was Garfield Ridge stripped from Burke and given to Tabares. 

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who owes her election to the Ed Burke corruption scandal, also threatened to veto any new ward map protecting Burke, her political nemesis.

Ortiz argued that Ed Burke should have stepped down a long time ago, but he expects him to run again — and lose. Edward Burke could not be reached for comment.

State Rep. Aaron Ortiz asks a question during a committee hearing on the Southwest Side to decide who will take over for former House Speaker Mike Madigan as state representative last year.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

“My political organization — the 14th Ward Democratic Organization — is having those thoughtful conversations on who that next candidate will be. But we definitely believe our organization can beat him.” 

Pressed on whether he would be that aldermanic candidate, Ortiz said, “I’m not ruling it out. But, if not me, then with a lot of things that are going on, I definitely believe we need more Latinas in politics. … There’s a few good candidates in our community.”

Clem Balanoff is the chairman of Our Revolution Chicago and manager of Ortiz’s winning campaign for 14th Ward Democratic committeeperson. Balanoff boldly predicted the 14th Ward “will not be represented by Ed Burke in May of 2023.”

“Voters are tired of the pay-to-play politics of Ed Burke. If he decides to run, he’s gonna be taken out. He belongs in jail — not in the City Council,” Balanoff said.

Veteran political operative Victor Reyes believes the City Council veteran will choose to go out on his own terms — by deciding not to seek reelection early next year for a term that begins in May.

“He’s already lost for committeeman under the prior map, which was more favorable. Now, the district is less favorable. … Why waste the money, the resources, the effort and your ego, I suppose, on a race that will be very, very difficult for him to win?” Reyes said.

“The group that would want to take that ward are the progressives. They had a good day [in the June 28 primary]. There’s no reason that they can’t position themselves to win that ward.”

In 54 years as alderman, Ed Burke survived numerous threats to depose him as chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee by mayors with whom he subsequently reached political accommodation.

As Finance Chairman, he controlled legislation. His out-sized clout stemmed from his massive campaign war chest and from the power he wielded as chairman of judicial slatemaking for the Democratic Party and husband of Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Anne Burke. 

Edward Burke also managed to overcome his own political extremism during the Council Wars power struggle that thwarted then-Mayor Harold Washington’s every move. For the most part, an entire generation of Chicagoans doesn’t remember Burke’s role as an obstructionist back then.

Ald. Ed Burke talks to reporters after a court hearing in 1984 about a petition he filed to oust Mayor Harold Washington from office because he filed late financial statements.

Sun-Times archives

He was forced to relinquish both chairmanships, the primary source of his power base, only after the Jan. 3, 2019 raid on his City Council office.

If these are, indeed, the final months of the Burke era, the 14th Ward is about to lose the most powerful and service-oriented alderperson it has ever had.

The City Council is about to lose its institutional memory. A man who knows more about Chicago history, city government and where the political bodies are buried at City Hall than all 49 of his colleagues combined.

And Lightfoot, if she wins a second term, would lose her favorite punching bag.

“Ed Burke has been a boogeyman for a lot of people. But whether it’s [Anthony] Beale or [Ray] Lopez or others — they’re perfectly capable of creating their own chaos without being egged on by Ed Burke,” Reyes said. 

“Daley and Rahm tolerated Burke as chairman of Finance because it helped them get things done in the City Council. It helped them with their reelections to not have Burke orchestrating coups. The reverse is now true with Lightfoot. Having Burke as a punching bag has helped position her as the reformer. It’s all political expediency.” 

Then state Rep. Dan Burke in 2018.

Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

Dan Burke is not at all certain his big brother will take his advice to ride off into the sunset and prepare for the all-important legal battle to maintain his freedom.

“The last election — under these very adverse circumstances, he pulled it off. He walked the streets at, what was he, 76 at the time?” he said.

Noting his brother has prostate cancer, Dan Burke added:

“There are so many things that would point someone not to do it. But we’re talking about an entirely different character here. … A political icon. A hero in this community, for the most part. Surrender is not part of his vocabulary. So who knows what he’s going to do? We don’t have these conversations.”

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July 14, 2022 at 05:40AM

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