Burke’s client roster takes a hit

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Ald. Edward M. Burke | Sun-Times file photo

Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) still has 36 law clients that do business with the city or other agencies of local government, but that’s a dozen fewer conflicts of interest than he reported a year ago.

Chicago aldermen on Wednesday raced to beat a midnight deadline to file their annual ethics statements, with the spotlight once again on the powerful chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee.

Burke’s clout-heavy law firm has helped President Donald Trump shave $11.7 million off the property tax bill for his riverfront hotel and condominium tower over seven years.

Klafter & Burke is still performing the same property tax appeals service for three dozen clients doing business with the city — even though that creates a conflict that requires him to recuse himself from countless City Council votes, Burke’s 2017 ethics statement shows.

Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th) reported having no legal clients doing business with the city or other government agencies, even though his law firm, Burke, Warren, MacKay & Serritella does.

Chicago Sun-Times reporter Tim Novak has described how Thompson was hired by the Lombard businessmen who bought the abandoned Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. gum factory in the Bridgeport neighborhood to cut their property taxes on the land.

Thompson subsequently handed off the job of obtaining tax breaks to his then-law partner — a distinction without a difference.

Last year, Burke reported 48 law clients who did business with the city or other agencies of local government.

He’s lost a dozen of those clients, including such heavy-hitters as AT&T; Broadway in Chicago; the Habitat Co.; Kenny Construction; K-Five Construction; Lake Point Tower Development LLC; La Marche Manufacturing; U.S. Equities; and the Union League Club of Chicago.

Burke’s 2016 client roster still includes: Aeroterm US, Inc.; Avis Budget Group; B&W Truck Repair; Bank of America; Baum Development; BMO Harris Bank; Brandenburg Industrial Service; CenterPoint Properties; Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters Apprentice & Training Program; Chicago & N.E. Illinois District Council of Carpenters; Chicago Firefighters Credit Union Chicago Journeymen Plumbers Local 130 and the Chicago Laborers Training and Apprentice Fund.

The client list also includes: Christy Webber Landscaping; Commonwealth Edison; Fifth Third Bank; Flood Brothers Disposal Company; Glazier Corporation; Greater Southwest Development Corp.; Lawndale Christian Health Center; Lexington Marketing LLC; MB Financial Bank; MB Real Estate; McCaffery Interests; Northwestern Memorial Hospital; R4 Services LLC; Roseland Community Hospital; Roundy’s Supermarkets; SOS Children’s Villages Illinois; South Chicago SLF Associates; Northern Trust Co.; Thermal Chicago Corp.; U.S. Bank; Vienna Beef; Walsh Construction and WEC Energy Group.

McCaffery Interests recently broke ground on a massive residential and commercial development that will change the face of Lincoln Park on the site of the old Children’s Memorial Hospital.

Walsh Construction is a perennial city contractor charged with building O’Hare Airport runways, the downtown riverwalk and the $50.3 million consolidated rental car facility at Midway Airport among scores of other projects.

The Carpenters, Firefighters, Plumbers and Laborers are among scores of unions that have negotiated pension reforms and will be negotiating new contracts with Mayor Rahm Emanuel that must be approved by the City Council.

Burke’s investment portfolio also took a hit.

Last year, Burke reported having stock in 26 companies that produced at least $5,000 in income, up from 16 companies the year before. This year, he reported capital gains from only five entities: JP Morgan Chase & Co. ETN Alerian MLP Index; Nippon Telegraph & Telephone; Perusahaan Perseroan Persero PT Indonesia; Rexam PLC New ADR chs sponsored ADR; and Driehaus Small Cap Investors.

Emanuel reported capital gains of at least $5,000 from the sale of seven stocks: Amer Cent Equity Incom-Inv.; BBH Core Select Fund-N; Clearbridge Appreciation-I; FMI Large Cap FD; Ishares MSCI EAFE Index Fund; JPM Mid Cap Value FD; and Matthew Pacific Tiger-FD-IS.

The mayor also reported gifts valued at more than $250 from five people. That includes the gift of transportation from Paul Finnegan, Skip Herman, Judd and Barry Malkin, Margo Pritzker, and Michael Sacks; the gift of lodging from Herman and sports tickets from Sacks.

Burke is Chicago’s most powerful alderman. He also presides over judicial slatemaking for the Cook County Democratic Party and is married to Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke.

Representing a predominantly Hispanic ward, he has amassed a $10.4 million political war chest. He has used that to bankroll the campaigns of other politicians, including former Gov. Pat Quinn and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez. The state’s attorney’s office ends up working against Burke when he sues county officials, seeking lower property taxes for Trump and other clients.

Burke has stated repeatedly that he does not represent any of his clients in their dealings with City Hall. His firm specializes in representing clients appealing property taxes before the county.

During the 1990s, the Chicago Sun-Times ran a series of stories detailing the alleged conflicts between Burke’s position as Finance Committee chairman and his private role as a lawyer.

The newspaper disclosed how Burke used a rare parliamentary maneuver to change the record of four past Council votes involving his airlines clients dating back as far as seven years.

Ever since then, Burke has abstained on a host of matters before his committee — and his annual ethics statement explains why.

Last year, the Chicago Sun-Times Watchdogs reported that Burke’s law firm specializing in property tax appeals has helped Trump and investors in his luxury downtown hotel and condominium cut their property taxes by 39 percent over seven years, saving them $11.7 million.

When Burke’s law firm succeeds in lowering taxes for its clients, that means higher bills for other property owners to make up the difference. Attorneys on tax appeals generally work for a percentage of the savings.

Earlier this week, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Kennedy called for what he called a “radical change in Illinois’ ‘corrupt’ property tax system, beginning with ethical reforms aimed at Democratic Party heavyweights.

Without mentioning Burke, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) or Assessor Joe Berrios by name, Kennedy said the state should enact laws to stop elected officials from acting as property tax appeal lawyers and to prevent any property tax lawyer from making campaign donations to local assessors.

Aldermanic ethics statements filed Wednesday showed that most City Council members work full time and reported no other source of income.

Notable exceptions are attorneys Thompson, Leslie Hairston (5th), Roderick Sawyer (6th), Howard Brookins (21st) and Pat O’Connor (40th); consultants Mike Zalewski (23rd), Danny Solis (25th), Gilbert Villegas (36th) and Brendan Reilly (42nd) and Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), owner of Ann Sather’s Restaurant.

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), a Democratic candidate for governor, still works for Northwestern University. Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) is an employee of a company that works as an agent for an energy broker.

Ald. Marty Quinn (13th) reported receiving more than $1,000 in compensation and gifts valued at more than $250 from Friends of Mike Madigan, along with gifts from the speaker and his wife, Shirley.

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) owns seven pieces of property in his booming Near West Side ward.

Tunney reported doing $2,506.70 worth of catering business for the Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Police Department.

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