It seemed a bit premature to be dancing on Ald. Edward Burke’s political grave Thursday while federal agents were still scouring his offices for evidence of something yet to be revealed.
Or maybe not.
“Lock ‘em up,” yelled the driver of a semi-tractor trailer as he drove past the gathering of reporters and photographers massed in front of Burke’s 14th Ward offices on 51st Street in Gage Park.
“It’s about time,” a pickup-truck driver hollered a bit later as he drove past.
In the meantime, two of Burke’s would-be opponents in the Feb. 26 aldermanic elections showed up to hold press conferences against the backdrop of the papered-over windows that hid the work of the federal investigators still holed up inside executing their search warrant.
It was the perfect setting to amplify their campaign message that 50 years in power for Burke should be long enough, even if he hasn’t been charged with a crime.
One of the candidates, Jose Luis Torrez, was still talking about the “need for change” in the 14th when some of the agents began removing the paper in the windows and soon filed out past him.
The other candidate, Jaime Guzman, was holding forth about how “this is emblematic of what’s wrong with Chicago” when I went around to the alley just in time to see the last of the feds make their getaway out the back door with at least three pieces of computer equipment and the three cardboard boxes usually used for carrying records.
It didn’t seem like much of a haul considering the hours they’d spent inside but that mostly depends on what they were expecting to find.
In a written statement, Burke shrugged off the raid as just another investigation among “several” that he has previously survived, the use of the word several being entirely too modest.
The alderman said he is “completely confident that at the end of the day nothing will be found amiss in this instance either.”
But it didn’t feel like just another investigation.
It felt like federal investigators must have a strong enough piece of evidence at their backs that they confidently came in big and unannounced, commandeering both Burke’s ward office and his City Hall Finance Committee offices.
They didn’t subpoena documents. They boldly came in and took them.
It felt like John Lausch, whose presence in Chicago as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois has been mostly an unconfirmed rumor to this point, is about to formally introduce himself in a big way.
If I were Burke, I’d be worried right now that I’d stuck around a little too long, let my guard down and slipped up by saying and doing the wrong thing around somebody I trusted.
That notion of a politician who has held on too long was only reinforced by surveying the scene around Burke’s 51st Street headquarters — now surrounded by a paleteria, panaderia, envios de dinero and the law office of an abogado in what has become a majority Hispanic ward.
The big sidewalk sign out front of Burke’s office still displays the not-quite-erased name of Walter Kozubowski, the former Chicago city clerk and Burke underling who was convicted in 1993 of running a $1 million ghost payrolling scheme at City Hall.
Also on the sign is the name of the alderman’s brother, Rep. Dan Burke, just voted out of office earlier this month by those newly emboldened Latino residents.
In short, after what we saw Thursday, Burke is going to need a good campaign manager.
And an even better abogado.