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The [Monday] Papers



"He was a larger-than-life presence at every Chicago City Council meeting."

That's an approving description of someone who was more of a racist buffoon from an earlier era - the last immovable object of the Vrdolyak 29 who survived in office and influence through a network of intergovernmental spies, political operators and, yes, friendly members of the media. I wouldn't call that "larger-than-life." I'd call it exceedingly small and an absurdity who was tolerated for too long because he knew too much about too many.


"It wasn't just the power he wielded and the front-and-center seat he occupied as Finance Committee chairman. It was his speaking skill, his encyclopedic knowledge of Chicago history and Roberts Rules of Order, the avalanche of legislation he championed and the relationships he forged with colleagues he took under his wing."

How he was allowed to commandeer the council floor for his self-serving history lessons was always beyond me. The legislation he championed was almost always nonsense - as we shall see in a minute, and nothing to boast of - and the relationships he forged were not built upon some civic sense of mentorship, but of capturing colleagues in his web for favors to be delivered later.


"When there was political mischief being played - which was often - he was almost always the heavy hand behind it."

That's not something to write approvingly of. But of course, when that mischief needed a push in the press, there was a reporter Burke - and/or his associates - could always call to plant it there.


"That's even though he's had an uneasy alliance - more like a detente - with every Chicago mayor under whom he has served for 50 years."

It would be interesting to explore how and why that happened. (Spoiler: Among other reasons, he was useful; as far as I can tell from city records, he never voted "No" during the reigns of Daley and Emanuel.)


"To say indicted Ald. Edward Burke (14th) is no longer the center of attention at council meetings he once dominated is an understatement. Burke is a blip on the radar - a shadow of his former self. Since being deposed as finance chairman and stripped of control over the city's $100 million-a-year workers' compensation program, Burke has occupied the front-row seat closest to the door."

Now this is interesting.

"He arrives late, leaves immediately and seldom, if ever, speaks. The spigot of legislation and press releases churned out by the staff that once filled his $2 million payroll has been turned off."

It's almost as if he is no longer able to perform his duties. This is the story.


"Never mind that most of the ordinances he championed went nowhere, even after lengthy hearings that made them look like 'fetchers' tailor-made to garner headlines, campaign contributions, legal business for Burke's property tax appeals firm or all of the above."

To the unitiated, from Mike Royko's Boss:

Money was there for those who wanted it, and many did. Lobbyists expected to pay for votes. Their generosity was matched by the legislators' greed. If a day passed without profit, some legislators would dream up a "fetcher" bill. A "fetcher" bill would, say, require that all railroad tracks in the state be relaid six inches further apart. It would "fetch" a visit from a lobbyist, bearing a gift.

A review of Burke's legislative record would be useful here - with acknowledgement that his shenanigans took time and resources away from the council actually doing the business it should have been doing, while maintaining his visibility and perceived influence. Also: His fetcher bills garnered headlines because at least some sectors of the media treated took them seriously. (For someone treated as a serious legislator, he sure spent a lot of time on fringey ordinances. Again, a review of his legislative record is in order.)


The mention of fetcher bills reminds me of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon's famous (to political insiders of a certain age) essay for Harper's on how the Illinois legislature worked (and to some extent still does). Unfortunately, it's behind a paywall. I thought it had been freed at some point; if so, please show me where I can find it.


"Last week's council meeting was a classic example of the new Ed Burke. It ended with a public hearing on Mayor Lori Lightfoot's proposed 2020 budget that the council is required by law to hold.

"In the past, Burke would have sat in his catbird seat, flashed his fiscal knowledge by questioning critics and supporters alike, and stayed until public testimony was done, even though it dragged on for hours.

"This time, it was Lightfoot who stayed until the bitter end."

Good. That's the mayor's job, not his. How The Ed Burke Show was allowed to exist all these years is, again, beyond me.


"That was hours after Burke had grabbed his trench coat and walked out the front door of the council chambers in a failed attempt to avoid reporters waiting to ask him about demands for his resignation as 14th Ward Democratic committeeman. Burke gave reporters the silent treatment. He kept walking.

"Normally impeccably dressed, he looked distracted, hunched over and a bit disheveled. His hair was longer in the back than it had been in years. He was wearing casual shoes more fit for a boat ride than the suit he had on."

Does that mean he was wearing boat shoes? Because otherwise, I don't get what that reference means. Fit for a boat ride?


"On Nov. 29, federal investigators famously raided Burke's ward and City Hall offices, covering the glass doors with brown butcher paper. At the time, Lightfoot was languishing in single digits in a 14-candidate field vying to replace then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel."

I wouldn't call the raid "famous." And Spielman never misses a chance to note that the feds covered the windows with "brown butcher paper," as if that choice is somehow significant, but whatever.


"Lightfoot set the tone for her relationship with Burke - and his new and diminished role in the City Council - 10 days after taking office. Having presided over her first meeting and installed her new council leadership team, Lightfoot seized a chance to humiliate her political nemesis and gloated about her triumph over a pathetic-looking Burke.

"Alderman, please. Alderman, I will call you when I'm ready to hear from you," Lightfoot told the once proud dean of the City Council. She never did.

I'm not sure that was about humiliation and gloating. It seemed, instead, to actually be a rare act of normalcy in council chambers.

"The following day, Burke was hit with a 14-count racketeering and extortion indictment accusing him of using his governmental role to muscle business for his law firm."

So, good for Lightfoot, right?


"Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) is Lightfoot's most outspoken City Council critic. On the day she humiliated Burke, Lightfoot accused Lopez of opposing her plan to end aldermanic prerogative because he's 'carrying the water for Alderman Burke.'

"Lopez said the tone of council meetings has changed immeasurably since Lightfoot put Burke in his place; there is 'something lost by Ed Burke being silenced,' he added."

Here's what we've lost:

"On Jan. 3, Burke was charged with attempted extortion for allegedly shaking down a Burger King franchise owner for legal business and for a $10,000 campaign contribution to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle . . .

"Burke was hit with a 14-count racketeering and extortion indictment accusing him of using his governmental role to muscle business for his law firm.

"It included the alleged Burger King shakedown. But it also alleged three similar schemes chronicled by former Zoning Committee Chairman Danny Solis (25th), who spent two years wearing a wire on Burke.

"Among them: that Burke tried to extort legal business from 601W Companies, developers of the Old Post Office, in exchange for his help with a variety of matters, including an $18 million tax increment finance 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 Burke, caught on tape, asks Solis: "Did we land the, uh, tuna?" and complaining the "cash register has not rung yet" and until he scored the legal business, he was not "motivated" to help the developer. "As far as I'm concerned, they can go fuck themselves," Burke said.

Trust me, I've been in this business a long time, and when a reporter goes to someone like Lopez for a comment - and not anyone else, at least who is named - and doesn't push back against what they say, that means the reporter agrees with the sentiment.

"You would hear great oratory on resolutions. You'd see his maneuvering to [push] what he felt was in the best interest of the city. Now you don't have that presence. You don't have the wealth of 50 years of knowledge on full display at every meeting. And when your mind's preoccupied, mischief tends to take a back seat," Lopez said.

"It's evident to many of us when you see the questions and the furtive looks between members and the mayor as to what the next order of procedure is during council meetings. I've counted at least two or three errors-per-meeting, simply because Burke isn't driving the agenda from start to finish."

Lopez has counted parliamentary errors by a new mayor (who I believe has a parliamentarian by her side, like all mayors) that Burke would have never allowed! Burke isn't driving the agenda from start to finish! (I'm pretty sure Daley and Rahm would disagree that Burke drove the agenda at their council meetings - though they very much could have had him drive their agenda.)

Without Burke as a dominating presence, "all of the horses are out of the barn. It's a free-for-all. He kept structure. Right now, the City Council has no structure," said another alderman, who asked to remain anonymous.

"Even though he played games, he kept things at bay. He knew what could go and what couldn't go. He knew all the rules. Now you just don't have that. It's a night-and-day difference."

Trust me, I've been in this business a long time, and when a reporter allows an anonymous comment to someone who doesn't deserve it - paging Anthony Beale! - that means the reporter agrees with the sentiment.

Where in this story, for example, is Burke's successor as finance committee chair, Ald. Scott Waguespack? Where is the mayor's floor leader, Ald. Gilbert Villegas? Where are the Sun-Times' editors?


It's been clear from day one that Spielman misses Rahm and Daley. From all appearances, she misses being spoonfed by aides who, on the condition of anonymity because they supposedly haven't been given permission to speak, tell her how great their bosses are.


My God, we're talking about Ed Burke, perhaps the ultimate symbol of Chicago's heart of darkness. He deserves our scorn - and a prison sentence. There is nothing about him anyone should miss.


See also:

* Eric Zorn from September: Anne Burke, Just Picked As State Supreme Court Chief Justice, Still Hasn't Explained Toni Preckwinkle Fundraiser.

* Me, from April 7, 2006:

"Burke's husband chairs the Democratic Party's subcommittee on slating candidates for judge. He was widely credited with orchestrating a clear path for his wife to win a seat on the appellate court unopposed," the Sun-Times notes.

At the time, the Chicago Council of Lawyers found Anne Burke to be "not qualified" for the seat . . .

And then there's this, also from the Sun-Times: "McMorrow got to know Burke when Burke volunteereed for McMorrow's first unsuccessful campaign for Supreme Court in 1990. Two years after being elected to the high court in 1992, McMorrow appointed Burke to the appellate court."

(Burke had to run for the seat in 1996--the campaign that her husband orchestrated and that reportedly featured two ghost candidates put on the ballot to scare off any other challengers. It's nice to have someone who won her judge's seat that way on the state Supreme Court, isn't it?)

* Me, from April 10, 2006:

"Last week's secret appointment of Anne Burke to the Illinois Supreme Court is just the latest example of how easy it is to dodge an often weak and unfocused media."


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Posted on November 18, 2019

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
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BOOKS - All About Poop.


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