Two weeks after celebrating 50 years in politics, Ald. Edward Burke (14th) has a giant bulls-eye on his back that threatens to end his record-long City Council tenure.
“We are coming after Ed Burke,” said Clem Balanoff, head of Our Revolution Illinois, a grass-roots political organization that grew out of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign for president.
“The handwriting is on the wall — whether he chooses to see it or not. Ed Burke will not be alderman come May of 2019 . . . We have a young, energetic movement going on the Southwest Side. There’s no room for smoke-filled, back-room politicians like Ed Burke, who are only serving themselves and not the public.”
Burke, 74, could not be reached for comment on Balanoff’s bold prediction. The City Council’s most powerful alderman may well have been licking his wounds.
Burke’s brother, state Rep. Dan Burke (D-Chicago), was defeated in his majority-Hispanic district by 26-year-old college counselor and high school soccer coach Aaron Ortiz. The race was dominated by Edward Burke’s work to reduce the property taxes on the riverfront tower bearing the name of President Donald Trump.
Even more humiliating: Edward Burke carried his own 14th Ward for his younger brother by just 62 votes. That’s the same 14th Ward where Jesus “Chuy” Garcia captured 64 percent of the vote in a 2015 mayoral run-off against incumbent Rahm Emanuel.
Ortiz was part of a coordinated campaign led by Garcia, who easily won the Democratic primary to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.).
Balanoff, a longtime Garcia ally, was chief strategist for an Ortiz campaign that Dan Burke outspent 3-to-1.
Garcia, who proved he had long political coattails, was asked whether he intends to field an aldermanic challenger against Burke.
He would say only, “The Burke dynasty is sunsetting. It’s sunsetting against the emergence of a Latino community that wants to make its voice heard and its vote felt . . . This is only logical. The community is seeking to ensure that its vote begins to approximate the population that lives in those communities.”
Burke has run unopposed in 10 of the last 11 elections. He sits on a massive campaign war chest and has never won less than 70 percent of the vote.
But even his political allies acknowledge Tuesday’s results were a gut-punch that should prompt Edward Burke to at least entertain the thought of political retirement and working with Garcia to find a suitable Hispanic replacement.
That would require burying a 19-year-old hatchet. Burke was instrumental in the Illinois Senate race that saw Antonio Munoz defeat Garcia.
“He has an opportunity to put in a progressive Latino and ensure that whatever legacy he has in the 14th Ward will continue. If he doesn’t, he can stay and possibly lose — particularly if Chuy backs someone against him,” a Burke ally said.
“Ed has to make a decision as to whether he wants to dictate the circumstances of his departure. If he doesn’t give a s–t about that, then hubris sometimes will make you stay a little too long. It’s a different era. They really pounded him on the Trump stuff in the Latino community.”
For Burke, it would be difficult to voluntarily relinquish the trappings of power he covets so much.
As Finance Committee chairman, he wields enormous influence over legislation, even when he abstains from votes because of the conflicts posed by having dozens of law clients doing business with the city.
His fundraisers are packed. He is squired around the city by bodyguards, though Emanuel cut his security team in half..
But during the heat of his brother’s failed fight for political survival, sources said Burke told more than one political associate: “This isn’t fun anymore.”
Only time will tell whether that remark was a prelude to political retirement.
“He’s got to make some adjustments. The most extreme one would be that he retires and appoints somebody like Luis did to succeed him,” another Burke ally said.
“He could go either way. He can survive it. It’ll be a tough fight. He’ll have to pull in every force — every relationship he’s ever had. But even if he stays, he’s got to read the times. Run some Hispanic candidates. Make `em a more integrated part of the ward organization.”
Ed Burke’s political future — or lack of it — is “bigger than the 14th Ward,” the Burke ally said.
“This is more than just an alderman. This guy basically runs the City Council the way that Madigan runs the House.”