The arrest of a powerful Chicago alderman who has been in office for 50 years and the corruption tax

Readability

The arrest of a powerful Chicago alderman who has been in office for 50 years and the corruption tax

Blog­ger in down­town Chicago

By John Ruberry

Chicago isn’t so much a city as it is a racket.

The fed­eral crim­i­nal com­plaint issued Thurs­day against Alder­man Edward Burke, who has been a mem­ber of the Chicago City Coun­cil for 50 years – he replaced his father who died in office – has over­shad­owed the Chicago may­oral race. That elec­tion, along with that of the fifty City Coun­cil seats, takes place late next month. As their are 15 can­di­dates for mayor, it is unlikely one per­son will achieve a major­ity, so the top two vote-​getters will face off in April. Incum­bent Rahm Emanuel, after two terms as mayor, chose not to run for a third.

For much of his decades in office, Burke, 75, has been chair­man of the City Coun­cil Finance Com­mit­tee, he resigned that post Fri­day morn­ing. Burke remains a can­di­date for reelec­tion for his alder­manic seat and he is still the Demo­c­ra­tic com­mit­tee­man of his ward, a post he’s held since 1968. The Finance Com­mit­tee chair­man is sec­ond most pow­er­ful politi­cian in Chicago government.

Burke is the lead part­ner at the law firm Klafter and Burke, which spe­cial­izes in prop­erty tax appeals. The committee’s pow­ers are vast and they of course include tax levies.

Hmmm.

The heart of the crim­i­nal com­plaint is how Burke allegedly threat­ened to block the remod­el­ing of a Burger King restau­rant in his ward unless the own­ers, who oper­ate dozens of other fast food restau­rants, hired his law firm. That’s called extortion.

Burke is deny­ing any wrongdoing.

The client list of Burke’s firm includes many indi­vid­u­als and firms who con­duct busi­ness with the city. Burke even rep­re­sented Chicago’s Trump Tower. Because of his con­flict­ing pub­lic and pri­vate inter­ests, the authors of a study for the Chicago NPR affil­i­ate and the Bet­ter Gov­ern­ment Asso­ci­a­tion dubbed him the King of Recusals.

What rea­son­able per­son can believe that the alleged Burger King inci­dent is an iso­lated one?

Accord­ing to the com­plaint Burke’s office allegedly strong-​armed the BK own­ers to con­tribute $10,000 to the cam­paign fund of Cook County Board Pres­i­dent Toni Preck­win­kle–of Cook County soda tax fame–who is now the chair of the Cook County Reg­u­lar Demo­c­ra­tic Orga­ni­za­tion and a can­di­date for mayor. Preck­win­kle late last year donated those funds to a not-​for-​profit. Burke’s son was hired in 2014 by the Preck­win­kle admin­is­tra­tion to a nearly $100,000-a-year job. Under­stand­ably, Preck­win­kle is now dis­tanc­ing him­self from Ed Burke. And she’s not alone.

Alle­ga­tions of ghost pay­rolling on Burke’s staff goes back many years.

The unnec­es­sary costs of graft – such as the reputed inci­dents listed above – as well as sweet­heart deals for ven­dors who con­tribute to the right pols, nepo­tism, and the effects of out­right bribery, is expen­sive for Chicago tax­pay­ers. It’s called the cor­rup­tion tax.

For months that Burger King, after a ward employee promised to “play hard­ball” against it, could only oper­ate a drive-​through win­dow because the din­ing area ren­o­va­tions were allegedly blocked for lack of the right per­mits because the own­ers refused to hire Burke’s law firm.

Not all Chicago wards are mis­run as Burke’s is, but he is not alone in his modus misoperandi.

While ram­pant small time graft, such as the type the Chicago Sun-​Times exposed in 1977 in its Mirage under­cover oper­a­tion that was recalled here at Da Tech Guy, is less com­mon now, big time graft hasn’t gone away – it may have even got­ten worse since then.

The cor­rup­tion costs for Chicago and Chicagoans are immense. The lack of a din­ing area at that Burger King of course, accord­ing to the crim­i­nal com­plaint, had a “major effect on sales and cash flow.” It’s not too dif­fi­cult to imag­ine this sce­nario being played a thou­sand times over in Chicago every year for more than 100 years. Also, I imag­ine thou­sands of busi­nesses stay­ing away from Chicago alto­gether to avoid crim­i­nal­ity. That means fewer jobs for Chicagoans and of course, less tax revenue.

Since 1973 over thirty Chicago alder­man have served time in fed­eral prison.

Because of pen­sion debt – gee, who has been the long­time Finance Com­mit­tee chair­man? – and out­right malfea­sance Chicago is essen­tially broke. But as they say, “Chicago isn’t bro­ken, it’s fixed.” The same meme is used for Illi­nois, whose most pow­er­ful politi­cian is Illi­nois House Speaker Michael Madi­gan, who is also the Demo­c­ra­tic com­mit­tee­man of a neigh­bor­ing ward of Burke’s. Madi­gan is believed to have made a for­tune in prop­erty tax appeal busi­ness at his real estate law firm.

A prodi­gious fundraiser – which of course is not sur­pris­ing con­sid­er­ing his enor­mous power – Burke has been a gen­er­ous con­trib­u­tor to other Demo­c­ra­tic cam­paign funds. Three other can­di­dates for mayor have close ties to Burke. State comp­trol­ler Susana Men­doza has called Burke a men­tor and was even mar­ried in Burke’s home; the cer­e­mony was presided by Anne Burke, an asso­ciate jus­tice on the Illi­nois Supreme Court. She’s the wife of Ed – some stuff you can’t make up. Men­doza donated over $12,000 in Burke con­tri­bu­tions to the fam­i­lies of three slain Chicago police offi­cers. William Daley has thrown his hat into the ring, Burke has con­tributed over $30,000 to Daley fam­ily cam­paign funds. As he did in 2011, Burke has endorsed a for­mer employee of his Finance Com­mit­tee, Gery Chico, in this year’s may­oral race.

Chicago has always been a cor­rupt city. Now it is the only major Amer­i­can city los­ing pop­u­la­tion, because it is broke, bro­ken, and yes, fixed. It seems that the devil is finally col­lect­ing his debt after thou­sands of Chicago politi­cians and bureau­crats sold their souls.

Vot­ers aren’t inno­cent either. Chicago has one Repub­li­can alder­man and hasn’t had a GOP mayor since 1931. The Repub­li­can Party isn’t inno­cent either. While Chicago elec­tions are non-​partisan, the Illi­nois GOP is miss­ing in action in the cur­rent elec­tion cycle. As it was last time.

And the time before that.

UPDATE Jan­u­ary 7: Preck­win­kle announced last night that she is return­ing over $100,000 from a fundraiser for her held at Burke’s home. She has yet to com­ment on the hir­ing of Burke’s son two years ago, who is no longer an employee of Cook County.


John Ruberry reg­u­larly blogs a few miles north of Chicago at Marathon Pun­dit.

Blogger in downtown Chicago

By John Ruberry

Chicago isn’t so much a city as it is a racket.

The federal criminal complaint issued Thursday against Alderman Edward Burke, who has been a member of the Chicago City Council for 50 years–he replaced his father who died in office–has overshadowed the Chicago mayoral race. That election, along with that of the fifty City Council seats, takes place late next month. As their are 15 candidates for mayor, it is unlikely one person will achieve a majority, so the top two vote-getters will face off in April. Incumbent Rahm Emanuel, after two terms as mayor, chose not to run for a third.

For much of his decades in office, Burke, 75, has been chairman of the City Council Finance Committee, he resigned that post Friday morning. Burke remains a candidate for reelection for his aldermanic seat and he is still the Democratic committeeman of his ward, a post he’s held since 1968. The Finance Committee chairman is second most powerful politician in Chicago government.

Burke is the lead partner at the law firm Klafter and Burke, which specializes in property tax appeals. The committee’s powers are vast and they of course include tax levies.

Hmmm.

The heart of the criminal complaint is how Burke allegedly threatened to block the remodeling of a Burger King restaurant in his ward unless the owners, who operate dozens of other fast food restaurants, hired his law firm. That’s called extortion.

Burke is denying any wrongdoing.

The client list of Burke’s firm includes many individuals and firms who conduct business with the city. Burke even represented Chicago’s Trump Tower. Because of his conflicting public and private interests, the authors of a study for the Chicago NPR affiliate and the Better Government Association dubbed him the King of Recusals.

What reasonable person can believe that the alleged Burger King incident is an isolated one?

According to the complaint Burke’s office allegedly strong-armed the BK owners to contribute $10,000 to the campaign fund of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle–of Cook County soda tax fame–who is now the chair of the Cook County Regular Democratic Organization and a candidate for mayor. Preckwinkle late last year donated those funds to a not-for-profit. Burke’s son was hired in 2014 by the Preckwinkle administration to a nearly $100,000-a-year job. Understandably, Preckwinkle is now distancing himself from Ed Burke. And she’s not alone.

Allegations of ghost payrolling on Burke’s staff goes back many years.

The unnecessary costs of graft–such as the reputed incidents listed above–as well as sweetheart deals for vendors who contribute to the right pols, nepotism, and the effects of outright bribery, is expensive for Chicago taxpayers. It’s called the corruption tax.

For months that Burger King, after a ward employee promised to “play hardball” against it, could only operate a drive-through window because the dining area renovations were allegedly blocked for lack of the right permits because the owners refused to hire Burke’s law firm.

Not all Chicago wards are misrun as Burke’s is, but he is not alone in his modus misoperandi.

While rampant small time graft, such as the type the Chicago Sun-Times exposed in 1977 in its Mirage undercover operation that was recalled here at Da Tech Guy, is less common now, big time graft hasn’t gone away–it may have even gotten worse since then.

The corruption costs for Chicago and Chicagoans are immense. The lack of a dining area at that Burger King of course, according to the criminal complaint, had a “major effect on sales and cash flow.” It’s not too difficult to imagine this scenario being played a thousand times over in Chicago every year for more than 100 years. Also, I imagine thousands of businesses staying away from Chicago altogether to avoid criminality. That means fewer jobs for Chicagoans and of course, less tax revenue.

Since 1973 over thirty Chicago alderman have served time in federal prison.

Because of pension debt–gee, who has been the longtime Finance Committee chairman?–and outright malfeasance Chicago is essentially broke. But as they say, “Chicago isn’t broken, it’s fixed.” The same meme is used for Illinois, whose most powerful politician is Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, who is also the Democratic committeeman of a neighboring ward of Burke’s. Madigan is believed to have made a fortune in property tax appeal business at his real estate law firm.

A prodigious fundraiser–which of course is not surprising considering his enormous power–Burke has been a generous contributor to other Democratic campaign funds. Three other candidates for mayor have close ties to Burke. State comptroller Susana Mendoza has called Burke a mentor and was even married in Burke’s home; the ceremony was presided by Anne Burke, an associate justice on the Illinois Supreme Court. She’s the wife of Ed–some stuff you can’t make up. Mendoza donated over $12,000 in Burke contributions to the families of three slain Chicago police officers. William Daley has thrown his hat into the ring, Burke has contributed over $30,000 to Daley family campaign funds. As he did in 2011, Burke has endorsed a former employee of his Finance Committee, Gery Chico, in this year’s mayoral race.

Chicago has always been a corrupt city. Now it is the only major American city losing population, because it is broke, broken, and yes, fixed. It seems that the devil is finally collecting his debt after thousands of Chicago politicians and bureaucrats sold their souls.

Voters aren’t innocent either. Chicago has one Republican alderman and hasn’t had a GOP mayor since 1931. The Republican Party isn’t innocent either. While Chicago elections are non-partisan, the Illinois GOP is missing in action in the current election cycle. As it was last time.

And the time before that.

UPDATE January 7: Preckwinkle announced last night that she is returning over $100,000 from a fundraiser for her held at Burke’s home. She has yet to comment on the hiring of Burke’s son two years ago, who is no longer an employee of Cook County.

John Ruberry regularly blogs a few miles north of Chicago at Marathon Pundit.