The culture of corruption and our politicians

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Ald. Ed Burke gets into a car outside his house earlier this month. | Justin Jackson/Sun-Times

I wonder if Ald. Ed Burke (14th) will claim he was victimized by the culture of corruption at Chicago’s City Hall.

When former governors George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich were facing criminal charges in federal court, they told juries they were victims of a culture of corruption in Springfield.

Their attorneys said that elected officials understood that in order to make the government function, you had to make deals. Trade jobs for campaign cash. Sell a U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder. And if you didn’t have a Senate seat to sell, you could have your chief of staff sell coveted license plate numbers (common during Ryan’s term as Illinois secretary of state).


Now the feds have charged Burke, 75, with attempted extortion. After 50 years in office, the federal prosecutor’s office contends they had a wiretap on his cell phone when he encouraged local Burger King executives to attend a fund-raising event for a politician not named in the federal complaint. The restaurant building owners were trying unsuccessfully to get permits for remodeling work, and were told they had failed to do things the Chicago Way.

That’s when they contacted Burke, the local alderman.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle was not named in the federal complaint. But it has been widely reported she was the person whose campaign Burke was seeking to aid financially in the alleged extortion attempt. She is now running for mayor and says she doesn’t know anything about anything. Her campaign has returned money Burke’s fund-raising operation contributed to her campaign.

Susana Mendoza, the Illinois comptroller who is also running for mayor, is claiming she only knows Burke because she was married in his house by Burke’s wife, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke. She doesn’t know anything about Chicago corruption.

Gery Chico, former school board president, former chief of staff to Mayor Richard M. Daley and a lawyer, is being backed by Burke in the mayoral race, may soon have trouble recognizing Burke’s face.

Did any of them know about the culture of corruption in Chicago? Probably not. Such revelations only seem to come following a federal indictment.

Now mayoral candidates are calling for reform. They want an end to the alleged bribe-taking, arm-twisting, political fund-raising and under-the-table payoffs.

This sort of behavior is never a secret, of course, no matter how those closest to the activity pretend they were unaware of it.

No one at the highest levels of the Catholic Church was ever responsible for child abuse, even if they covered it up and protected the pedophiles.

That may be unfair.

It’s sort of like wondering how so many police officers could have witnessed the shooting of Laquan McDonald and claimed they saw nothing wrong. Or asking why so many of the top cops in Chicago have remained in the department after that shameful cover-up. Hey, isn’t the guy who was top cop at the time running for mayor?

Let us remember Burke has not been convicted of anything, although he has been a symbol of Chicago political corruption for decades. He has had the best people into his home. He has done favors for scores of politicians who were happy to accept his support and his money.

Maybe they are all victims of the culture of corruption.

As someone once said, the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

Ryan and Blagojevich actually thought a jury would buy the argument that to hold elected office you must become an immoral, double-dealing, scumbag. That’s how twisted a person’s perspective can get after a lifetime spent in politics in these parts. You can actually convince yourself that ordinary people will hear that argument and say, “Not Guilty.”

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