The unprecedented federal raid of the City Hall and ward offices of Ald. Edward Burke (14th) is the culmination of a “mature investigation” that is likely to result in the political or legal demise of Chicago’s most powerful alderman.
That’s the bottom line from David Axelrod, the former presidential adviser now serving as director and founder of the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago.
One way or another, Axelrod said the extraordinary events of Nov. 29 are likely to trigger Burke’s political demise.
If Burke is indicted, as Axelrod believes he will be and soon, the chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee is likely to drop out of the toughest aldermanic race of his 50-year career.
“My assumption is that this is a pretty mature investigation. For the FBI to raid an office at city hall knowing that it’s going to be a public event –– and cover windows with paper — suggests to me that this wasn’t an exploratory effort, but the end of an investigation,” Axelrod said Friday.
“Once you’re raided like that, it usually portends an indictment…If he gets indicted, he’s not gonna run…He just withdraws.”
If the federal investigation does not come to a head before the Feb. 26 aldermanic election, Burke could lose to a challenger backed by Congressman-elect Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, Axelrod said.
The race is certain to be dominated by Burke’s property tax appeals work for the riverfront tower that bears the name of President Donald Trump.
Axelrod noted that there is “this rule within the FBI, within the Justice Department” not to take action against a politician either locally or nationally in the middle of a campaign.
“Well, he’s in the middle of a campaign. This can’t be helpful. He has the first real serious threat of his career now. The ward has changed demographically…Given the fact that his brother lost, [it doesn’t look good]. One way or the other, this doesn’t look very positive for Ed Burke,” he said.
“If this drags on and hangs over him in the course of this election, it seems unfair. They need to be at a point where they’re ready to do something. Or else, they’ve really hurt him with the outcome undetermined of the probe.”
Either way, Axelrod said it’ll be the end of an era in Chicago politics.
It may also be yet another lesson about staying too long at the dance.
Just like Dan Rostenkowski, the former powerful U.S. House Ways and Means Committee chairman whose storied career ended in a federal corruption conviction.
“One of the things about being around 50 years is that, things that were commonplace 50 years ago are freakin’ illegal today,” Axelrod said, during a wide-ranging interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.
“That’s what happened to Rosty. It was probably common practice to cash those stamps in by the day when he started. By the end, it was a crime….If you’re gonna stay, understand when the rules change.”
Burke could have taken the $12 million-plus in his campaign war chest — and that was before the “loyalty-trumps- integrity-every-time” show of force at Burke’s Tuesday’s fundraiser — and rode off into the political sunset.
Instead, both he and former Council Wars co-hort, former Ald. Edward Vrdolyak (10th) are senior citizens in the crosshairs of federal investigators.
“How much —-ing money do you need? It’s almost like pathological. Like he does it for the sport of it,” Axelrod said.
“He may need it now.”
Axelrod has known Burke since 1979. He was a reporter covering then-mayoral candidate Jane Byrne for the Chicago Tribune when Byrne accused Burke of being part of a “cabal of evil men” who “greased” a taxicab fare increase a few years before.
Four years later, Axelrod watched Burke and Vrdolyak play starring roles in the “Council Wars” power struggle that thwarted Washington’s every move.
“What he and Eddie Vrdolyak did was outrageous. Really a forerunner of what we see in Washington today,” Axelrod said.
Recently, Axelrod interviewed Burke’s wife, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, for the “Axe Files” show he hosts on CNN.
He asked Anne Burke what Washington would have thought about the couple’s decision to raise their adopted black son Travis, given the extreme and racially insensitive positions that her husband took during Council Wars.
“She said, ‘We’re all the product of how we were raised and, sometimes, it takes a lot of work to get over that,'” Axelrod recalled.
“She was very honest. She didn’t defend it…She said it was a really difficult time.”