It’s a long way, geographically and culturally, from Donald Trump’s downtown skyscraper to Ald. Ed Burke’s 14th Ward.
Along Pulaski Road in Burke’s ward, opening a checking account or getting a used car loan often involves presenting your matrícula — the Mexican government identification cards many undocumented immigrants carry.
There doesn’t seem to be much to connect Burke’s working-class, predominantly Latino constituents and the presumptive Republican presidential nominee who promises to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border and assailed a Mexican-American judge who declined to throw out a civil case against him.
But the Donald and the Democratic powerbroker from the Southwest Side ward go way back. As my colleagues Tim Novak and Chris Fusco recently reported, Burke has held a side job as Trump’s property-tax appeals lawyer since 2006, cutting more than $14.1 million from the Cook County bills for the Trump International Hotel & Tower.
Burke continues working for Trump, trying to get the courts to grant further reductions for the billionaire’s luxurious property along the Chicago River.
News of Burke’s relationship with Trump didn’t go down well with many people at the 14th Ward’s taquerías, charter schools and sidewalk food carts.
“I wouldn’t want to associate with Trump if I were the alderman here,” says José Tinoco, a 30-year-old tattoo artist originally from the Mexican state of Michoacán.
Tinoco says he refused to ink the Chicago skyline on a client’s arm unless he could omit the Trump Tower from the tattoo.
When the man insisted he include the building, Tinoco told him, “The only way I would do it is if [the Trump Tower] was on fire.”
The client agreed but became nervous while getting the tattoo, telling Tinoco, “They’re going to think I’m a terrorist.”
Tinoco says it’s a symbolic protest. “I told him, ‘It’s art, it’s self-expression,’” he says, showing a photo of the completed tattoo with the Trump Tower engulfed in flames.
Tinoco says he would limit his actual protest to telling his sister not to vote for Burke because of his Trump ties. But he can’t vote against Burke himself, he says, “because I’m not a [U.S.] citizen.”
The 14th is last among Chicago’s 50 wards in the number of registered voters. Most people there are from Mexico or are children of immigrants. Many surely are undocumented.
“The 14th Ward is a paisa [first-generation immigrant] ward,” a Latino politician told me, requesting anonymity for fear Burke could give some of his $10.4 million political war chest to an election challenger. “In the 14th Ward, [Trump’s] support is zero.”
Trump actually got 572 of the 980 votes cast in the ward in this year’s GOP presidential primary. But nearly 9,500 Democratic ballots were cast.
It’s hard to find any of the rare Trump backers.
More common are people such as retired factory and hotel worker Francisco Maynez, 73. He says Trump made racist comments and doesn’t appreciate what Latinos contribute to the U.S.
“If the alderman is working with him, he’s against us,” says Maynez, who moved here in 1970 from the Mexican state of Chihuahua.
Buying a raspado (flavored shaved ice) from a vendor along 51st Street, 14th Ward resident Sara Villasenor says she wouldn’t work for Trump “even for $1 million.”
“It’s bad,” she says in Spanish of Burke’s work for Trump. “Instead of helping us, he’s harming us.”
Burke has not commented on his business with Trump.
By far the longest-serving alderman, Burke appears unbeatable. When he marked 40 years in office a few years ago, he gave out commemorative coins bearing his face and a saying: “You’ll never remember the words of your enemies. You’ll never forget the silence of your friends.”
Burke should break his silence on Trump by telling him he needs to find another lawyer in Chicago. That could go a long way toward tearing down the wall that’s risen between Burke and the people he represents in the City Council.