Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot demanded Tuesday that Ald. Edward Burke (14th) step down as chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee and give up his police bodyguards in the wake of last week’s unprecedented federal raid on his City Hall and ward offices.
“You cannot have legitimacy when there’s this cloud of suspicion hanging over somebody who has amassed this much of power,” Lightfoot said.
“He cannot have unchecked, unilateral control over taxpayers dollars in the way he has now in light of this federal suspicion. Anybody who is under this kind of serious pressure, their first response is gonna be to protect themselves. It’s not gonna be what’s in the best interest of taxpayers.”
Contacted Tuesday, Burke refused to comment on Lightfoot’s demand that he vacate the Finance Committee chair that has been his primary power base for more than 30 years.
Nor would he comment on Lightfoot’s demand that the Finance Committee be stripped of control over Chicago’s $100 million-a-year worker’s compensation program.
The program was walled off from scrutiny by Inspector General Joe Ferguson even after Ferguson was empowered to investigate the City Council.
“There’s too much money that flows through that system that is completely opaque. We have no idea how those monies are spent, who the people are who are making the decisions. That’s got to end,” Lightfoot said.
“Now is the time to make sure the executive branch actually owns responsibility for this important human resources function and takes it from the legislative branch where it never should have been in the first place.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel privately blamed Burke for being the heavy hand behind the residency challenge that nearly knocked Emanuel off the 2011 ballot.
After the election that saw Burke support Gery Chico over Emanuel, Emanuel rocked the boat with a pre-election threat to reorganize the City Council and strip Burke of his police bodyguards and, possibly, the Finance Committee chairmanship.
He ended up retaining Burke, leaving the worker’s comp program in the Finance Committee and cutting the chairman’s police detail in half –– from four active police officers to two retired ones.
Even after last week’s raid, Emanuel said it was too soon to demand that Burke step down as Finance Committee chairman because no federal charges have been filed.
But Lightfoot said Tuesday that it’s time for the “political deal that has cost taxpayers money and compromised the integrity of city government” to end.
“No more deals. No more political expediency…There’s no justification for it. And frankly, it raises serious questions about somebody who is clearly the target of a federal grand jury investigation being sheltered by police officers,” she said.
“There is no doubt in my mind that they’re gonna be subject to interrogation by federal prosecutors and the FBI. The police department doesn’t need that kind of publicity.”
Burke has survived countless federal investigations and subsequent political attempts to depose him as Finance chairman, primarily fueled by the conflict posed by the property tax appeals work he does for companies doing business with the city.
But Lightfoot argued that this time is different.
A former federal prosecutor, Lightfoot noted that, in order to justify that raid less than three months before the Feb. 26 election, a judge had to be convinced that a crime had been committed and that evidence of that crime would be located at either or both of Burke’s offices.
“Maybe he won’t be charged. Maybe this storm cloud will blow away. But in the interim, this is an opportunity for us to take back our government and make sure that we have a transparent and opaque, accountable process, which has never happened under Ed Burke’s rule and never will,” she said.
Lightfoot spoke just hours before Burke held his annual campaign fundraiser to celebrate his 50 years in politics and build upon a campaign war chest that already tops $12 million.
It’s always a command performance where city contractors and other movers-and-shakers show up to kiss the ring.
But this year, it’s a test of whether Burke’s allies will stand by him during his darkest hour or stay away for fear of guilt by association.
The City Council’s most powerful and longest-serving aldermen will surely be taking attendance. One of his favorite quotes comes from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who said: “In the end, we will remember, not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Lightfoot has no such dilemma.
She is a longtime Burke adversary who targeted Burke for removal as Finance chairman even before the raid and released an ethics plan that would prohibit aldermen from holding paid side jobs that conflict with the city’s interests.
By leading the charge against a wounded Burke, Lightfoot hopes to position herself as a leading reformer in the crowded race for mayor.
“It is important for people who care about accountability and transparency in government to speak up, particularly given the silence of other people who should be leading this charge along with me,” Lightfoot said.
“Every other major candidate for mayor is ducking for cover because, frankly, they’ve been bought and paid for by their relationships with Ed Burke and others.”