The name of Ald. Edward Burke (14th) was blacked out on the glass door to his City Hall office Tuesday, only to be restored hours later after newly-appointed Finance Committee Chairman Pat O’Connor (40th) declined to bump his longtime ally.
O’Connor’s decision means Burke will not be evicted from the expansive suite assigned to the Finance Committee chairman, even though he relinquished the job and the bodyguards and chauffeur-driven vehicle that came with it after he was charged with extortion last week.
Those are the same glass doors that FBI agents famously covered with brown butcher paper to conceal their activities inside during the unprecedented Nov. 29 raid on Burke’s City Hall offices. Burke’s 14th Ward office was raided on the same day.
O’Connor, who just happens to be Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Council floor leader, is the Finance Committee vice-chair who assumed the top job that Burke relinquished last week, one day after a federal complaint accused Burke of shaking down a Burger King owner for legal business and for a $10,000 campaign contribution to Toni Preckwinkle.
Ordinarily, O’Connor would inherit the office suite that goes with the Finance Committee chairmanship along with Burke’s front row, center seat in the City Council chambers. After all, to the victor belong the spoils.
But O’Connor has no interest in kicking the former chairman when he is down. That’s particularly true given O’Connor’s longstanding friendship and political alliance with Burke.
O’Connor has served together with Burke since O’Connor’s election to the City Council in 1983.
During the Council Wars power struggle that saw 29 mostly white aldermen led by Burke and former Ald. Ed Vrdolyak (10th) thwart then-Mayor Harold Washington’ every move, O’Connor was a loyal member of the Vrdolyak 29.
“I feel terrible about the whole situation. The whole situation is very difficult,” said O’Connor, who will not have a security detail, told the Chicago Sun-Times last week.
“I wish this wasn’t happening to him. I wish it wasn’t happening to the city.”
At the time, O’Connor also stressed the temporary nature of the appointment.
Burke, 75, faces allegations that he tried to shake down Burger King executives for business for his legal firm while the company needed permits to remodel one of its fast-food restaurants in Burke’s 14th Ward. He has said he’s done nothing wrong.
Burke effectively had no choice but to step down as Finance chairman after Emanuel publicly declared that he wanted him out.
It was either that or face the humiliation of having his colleagues vote him out.
The City Council’s Progressive Caucus wants to strictly enforce Rule 36 of Council rules, which empowers aldermen to choose their own committee chairmen.
Instead of O’Connor, they want the Finance Committee chairmanship to go to Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), the Progressive Caucus chairman who is running unopposed.
“We’re looking at what conflicts he has that have been pointed out over the years,” Waguespack said this week, referring to conflicts over O’Connor’s wife working as a real estate agent on projects where her husband approved the zoning.
“We want to make sure that we have somebody in that seat who can move the City Council business forward without any conflicts, either known or unknown.”
Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) facetiously referred to what he called the “go-along-to-get-along” caucus, otherwise known as the “rubber stamp caucus.”
“To think that one of the leaders of that caucus, Pat O’Connor, at this moment has the moral authority, has the leadership, has the ability, has the track record to reform the Chicago City Council . . . at this moment of crisis is utterly ridiculous,” Ramirez-Rosa said.
O’Connor could not be reached for comment about his conflicts, which pale by comparison to the conflicts that prompted Burke to abstain from hundreds of City Council votes involving his law clients.
Last week, O’Connor openly acknowledged opposition to his promotion.
But he said, “This is not a long-term situation. You’re talking about a span of, perhaps, three meetings. At some point in time, people can act as they see fit. But right now, under our rules, this is what happens. Carrie Austin was sick a couple budget cycles ago. The vice chairman took the spot. It is a function of the committee structure as it stands today.”