Ed Burke grew impatient waiting for his golden eggs to drop

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Ald. Ed Burke (14th) walks into the Dirksen Federal Courthouse Thursday afternoon after he is charged with political corruption. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Oh Ed, Ed, Ed, what is it with you rich guys? You’re sitting astride a money machine, chugging away, day after day, year after year, pumping cash directly into your fat accounts. But it just doesn’t pump fast enough—is that the problem?

No. That isn’t it. What happens is, you get careless as the years roll on. Holding the honking, flapping goose jammed under one arm, waiting for something shiny to crown. You get impatient, standing there, choking on loose feathers, with your cupped hand, poised beneath its struggling bottom. You just want to move the process along. So you start to work your fingers in, try to get a handhold on that slippery sucker and pull the golden egg out.

Into a federal wiretap. With Burger King. Over a driveway.

Of course. It’s always something trivial. Crystal and chairs and postage stamps in Dan Rostenkowski’s basement. That Mr. Chairman also went down after huffing power and money for so long it made him lightheaded.

The charge isn’t trivial: attempted extortion. Though to me, the crime is what’s legal: the cosiness of our leaders and big money already violates the public interest on a normal day, no chargeable crimes committed. The guys running the city do business with the businesses they’re supposed to be monitoring. The standard of excellence being: no quid pro quo. So long as you don’t speak the words, “Give me the money and I’ll do whatever you want,” clearly, into an FBI wiretap.

You don’t have to say it. They know what to do. Manus manum lavat. It should be on the city seal. “One hand washes the other.”

Ed Burke belongs on the seal too, instead of the baby. He is a minor Chicago landmark, and I’d be sorry to see him go, sort of. Not Field’s but Carson’s. Not the Water Tower but Water Tower Place. You might not ever go there anymore—who does?—but you’d still hate to see the thing torn down.

Call me a softie. But someone should say a few words in defense of the man. He is married to Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, the platinum bar of probity, active in trying to reform her Catholic Church, passionately opposing Chief Judge Timothy Evans’ shambolic approach to managing, or more precisely, mismanaging our court system. A former cop, Ed Burke is a fixture at wakes and funerals of Chicago’s finest. People snicker at the hours he spends gravely intoning official praise into the City Council record for this or that heroic police officer or retiring firemen. Except for the families. They don’t snicker.

Ed Burke is around. You see him places. That filet mignon skin, those Guys and Dolls suits, the white hair, the round glasses. I’ll scan a room hopelessly and there he’ll be, and I can wander over and talk to the man.

Or try to. When I profiled Rahm Emanuel for Esquire in 2014, I wanted Burke to talk to me about his stunt backing the guy who rented Emanuel’s home in a mayoral run against him in 2011, leading to a moment described in the magazine like this:

…ask Burke about Rahm and the election face-to-face, and he will pause and look at you, quizzical and silent, almost hurt, as if slightly offended you would imagine he might ever comment on a thing like that, particularly to you, whom he once personally gave a gold star in a leather police wallet designating you as his Special Aide. Nobody grabs the devil’s tail and demands he dance.

That gold star. A curious token. He showed up at a book signing and handed me the star, with an ID card with my photo emblazoned “CHICAGO CITY COUNCIL.” The text assures any and all that “The bearer of these credential is a person of honesty and integrity. The undersigned requests that all agents and officials of the city government extend every courtesy to the bearer…”

I pocketed the the thing, wondering what I was supposed to do with it. Carry it around, and use it to try to squeak out of whatever jams I get myself into, I guess. That wasn’t happening. The problem with entrenched power is, it makes the bearers of it think they can get away with almost anything, based on who they are. They can’t. Ed Burke is learning that now.

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