Chicago Ald. Ed Burke gives up control of city finances after felony extortion charge

Chicago Ald. Ed Burke gives up control of city finances after felony extortion charge

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Jan. 4 that longtime Ald. Ed Burke resigned as chairman of the city’s finance committee. The move came the day after federal agents served Burke an attempted extortion charge.

Chicago Ald. Ed Burke, 14th Ward, gave up much of his power Jan. 4 when he resigned as chairman of the city’s Committee on Finance.

Besides giving up the city’s purse strings, Burke’s resignation also means giving up control of the city’s $100 million-a-year workers’ compensation program. A lawsuit filed last year claimed Burke used the workers’ comp program for patronage hires including a dog groomer, hairstylist and waitress with no experience administering a workers’ comp program.

Outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced, “I have spoken with Alderman Ed Burke, who agreed that the best course of action is for him to resign as chairman of the Committee on Finance. Because of his affection for the city, deep respect for the institution of City Council and the needs of his constituents, Alderman Burke took the appropriate step to put the interests of the city above all else.”

The committee’s vice chairman, Ald. Pat O’Connor, 40th Ward, will assume Burke’s former leadership role, Emanuel stated.

Federal charges unsealed Jan. 3 stated Burke used his power as an alderman to pressure Burger King executives to hire his private law firm for their property tax work. Burke, facing a felony count of attempted extortion, appeared in court the same day and was released on a $10,000 unsecured bond. He declined to comment on the charges, which carry a maximum of 20 years in a federal penitentiary.

The Chicago Tribune reported Burke also solicited an illegal $10,000 campaign contribution from the fast food executives for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who is running for city mayor. Preckwinkle’s campaign said it returned the money, but the federal complaint states the candidate kept $5,600 – the maximum contribution an individual can give under state law – and only returned the portion that exceeded legal limits.

Burke, who has held his seat on the council for 50 years, is the top campaign fundraiser among Chicago’s 50 aldermen. The 75-year-old is known for his penchant for pinstripe suits and fedoras, as well as for insulating from oversight his political operation, the city’s workers’ comp program and aldermen’s $1.3 million-a-year expense accounts. His influence extends to judicial appointments and whether city legislation moves forward.

According to the attempted extortion charge against Burke, FBI agents listened in on Burke’s cellphone calls as part of the investigation. When Burger King in 2017 was slow to respond to his bid for their business, Burke and one of his ward employees discussed increasing the pressure by withholding permits needed to remodel the restaurant, which is located near where Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times and killed by a Chicago police officer in 2014.

“All right, I’ll play as hard ball as I can,” the complaint quotes the ward employee.

“OK,” Burke replied.

The complaint also details how Burger King executives said Burke was the only alderman to get involved in a remodeling project out of 12 to 18 similar projects in Chicago. After Burke shut down part of the project involving the restaurant drive-through, the company architect emailed city departments seeking help.

“See below as my client just informed me that Alderman Burke has shut this job down…. This does not seem right that Burke can shut this project down considering we have our permit,” according to the email text included in the charge.

FBI agents on Nov. 29 raided Burke’s City Hall office, and federal agents also were at his 14th Ward district office.

His law firm handles property tax appeals, counting some of Chicago’s biggest businesses among its clients. Before Donald Trump became president, Burke’s firm handled the property tax appeal on Trump International Hotel and Tower in downtown Chicago.

Burke’s wife, Anne, is a justice on the Illinois Supreme Court.

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