Vowing to stay in the race for re-election and win, a stone-faced Ald. Edward Burke (14th) said Wednesday he has “done nothing wrong” and “no recording that Danny Solis can make would change that.”
Burke tried to take the blockbuster betrayal in stride hours after the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Solis, retiring powerful chairman of the City Council’s Zoning Committee, has spent the last two years wired up to help federal investigators build their corruption case against Burke.
As astounded aldermen were digesting the news that one of their own had taken sides against the family, Burke arrived at City Hall for his first City Council meeting since being charged with attempted extortion and being forced out as finance committee chairman.
For the first time in decades, he was just one of 50. Instead of sitting front and center in the seat of honor normally reserved for the finance chairman, Burke sat quietly in the front row in the seat closest to the VIP box normally reserved for cabinet members and guests.
Caught in the elevator with his coat and hat still on, Burke was asked how he felt about Solis having joined forces with the feds to record conversations he and Burke had with movers and shakers seeking city action.
“Number one, I’ve done nothing wrong. And no recording that Danny Solis can make would change that,” Burke said.
After that, it was stone-cold silence. Burke refused to say whether he felt betrayed by Solis.
Nor would he talk about a fresh report in the Chicago Tribune that his son was under investigation for sexually inappropriate conversations at the sheriff’s office when he was promoted to a sensitive Homeland Security job by the administration of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
“Excuse me,” Burke said, getting off the elevator without answering any of the questions being asked by a pair of reporters.
After the Council meeting that saw few aldermen interacting with Burke, the embattled alderman was surrounded by a swarm of television cameras as he made his way to a back staircase leading to his third-floor suite.
“I’ve done nothing wrong. Anything that Ald. Solis recorded, if he did, isn’t gonna make any difference,” he said.
Pressed on whether he intends to stay in the race, Burke said, “I’m not only gonna stay in the race. I’m gonna win.”
Burke’s colleagues were far more outspoken. They view Solis’ actions as a betrayal.
“Where I come from, if you wore a wire, someone’s gonna kick your ass,” said Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th), whose Southwest Side ward is home to scores of Chicago Police officers.
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), chairman of the Black Caucus, agreed saying getting wired up to snare colleagues is “not the way I was brought up.”
“If I was caught doing something wrong, I’d just take my punishment, deal with the consequences . . . and keep my mouth shut,” Sawyer said.
As for Solis, whose seat in the City Council chambers remained empty, Sawyer said, “I feel for him….But, it is not a comforting moment that you have to really think twice when you’re talking to somebody on the Council floor, on the phone or whatever.”
Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), the always outspoken Budget Committee Chairman, was suddenly speechless when asked to comment about Solis.
“Not about Danny. I might cry,” Austin said. “You don’t do that. You just don’t.”
Rules Committee Chairman Michelle Harris (8th) offered a variation on Don Corleone’s infamous admonishment to his son in the movie, “The Godfather”: “Don’t take sides against the family.”
“I try to think that we’re a family down here and we all work together. So, I got to say it’s probably a little disheartening for me,” Harris said.
“I’m a little stunned because he and I worked together. I considered him a good colleague and somebody that I’ve enjoyed working with. But it kind of makes you feel a little . . . uncomfortable about working with people.”
Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), chairman of the Hispanic Caucus, called Solis’ extraordinary role as an FBI mole a “betrayal” of the entire Hispanic community.
“I’m shocked and disappointed that something occurred to put him in that situation…There’s more to the story. I’m looking to see what comes out,” Villegas said.
“The community is disappointed that he put himself in that position. He’s let down residents of the 25th Ward but more in general the whole Hispanic community because he’s been around for two decades and has been a leader on certain issues related to immigration and stuff like that.”
News of Solis’ role as an undercover alderman sent a chill down the City Council’s collective spine. Aldermen and city officials alike were wracking their brains to figure out what they might have said or done in his wired presence.
Ald. James Cappleman (46th), who will chair the Zoning Committee if and when Solis resigns, was not among the nervous Nellies.
“Every alderman should operate under the [assumption] that someone’s always wearing a wire. This should be a notice to everyone to always be on the up-and-up. Always,” Cappleman said.
Cappleman says he follows that advice without exception and, therefore, has nothing to fear.
“I served on two ethics committees in two different hospitals. I was a former Franciscan friar. I operate in an ethical manner. That’s who I am. It frustrates people. But that’s who I am.”
Burke has been charged with one count of attempted extortion for allegedly shaking down a Burger King franchise owner for legal business and for a $10,000 campaign contribution for County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
He is accused of holding up fast-food kingpin Shoukat Dhanani’s request for a driveway permit until demands for legal business for all of Dhanani’s Burger King franchises across the state were met.
Burke has emphatically and repeatedly denied wrongdoing. He has vowed to remain in a 14th Ward aldermanic race that would have been his toughest political challenge, even before federal charges were filed.
Earlier this week, the Fraternal Order of Police rewarded Burke with its endorsement.