Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot on Friday accused Ald. Edward Burke (14th) of attempting to organize the City Council against her and threatened to expose aldermen who dare to conspire with him.
“Any alderman who’s gonna try to align themselves with Ed Burke at this time — we’re gonna make sure that gets very public and exposed . . . I’m going to do everything I can to shine a light on that,” Lightfoot told the Sun-Times.
“They’re gonna have to explain to the public why they’re aligning with him against the voters of this city.”
Burke could not be reached for comment.
Lightfoot likened Burke’s behind-the-scenes mischief-making to what he and former Ald. Edward Vrdolyak (10th) did to Mayor Harold Washington.
Their mostly white coalition, better known as the Vrdolyak 29, thwarted Washington’s every move. The stalemate ended only after special aldermanic elections in 1986 finally gave Washington control over the City Council.
“We’re not gonna resurrect the Vrdolyak 29 in the form of Ed Burke. That’s not going to happen. He can try all he wants. He’s not going to be successful,” Lightfoot said.
Lightfoot was alerted to Burke’s Machiavellian maneuvers by fellow alderman who have been approached by the deposed chairman of the City Council’s finance committee, sources familiar with the matter. Some of those same aldermen confirmed the maneuvers to the Sun-Times.
She wasn’t surprised. Lightfoot is a longtime Burke nemesis who targeted Burke and did battle with him long before the alderman was charged with attempted extortion.
“Of course he is [conspiring against her]. That’s what he does . . . It’s always power,” she said.
“He’s been very successful in accumulating power despite the odds and he’s not gonna give up on that easily. But beware.”
Burke was forced to relinquish the Finance Committee chairmanship that was his primary power base for decades after being charged with attempted extortion for allegedly shaking down a Burger King franchise owner for legal business and for a $10,000 campaign contribution to vanquished mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle.
Those Jan. 3 charges were a turning point for Lightfoot’s campaign. Preckwinkle never recovered from being dragged into the Burke scandal.
On Friday, Lightfoot noted that her former colleagues in the U.S. attorney’s office face a May 3 deadline to indict Burke.
“He’s going to have bigger fish to fry. I have every confidence that charges are gonna be brought in an indictment against him before I’m sworn in. So he needs to focus on his own personal circumstances and stop trying to meddle around,” she said.
Earlier this week, veteran aldermen urged Lightfoot to tread softly with the new, emboldened and more progressive City Council or risk derailing her ambitious legislative agenda.
They invited her to weigh in, but urged her to let them choose their own committee chairmen.
Two of the City Council’s most senior African-American aldermen — Transportation Committee Chairman Anthony Beale (9th) and Budget Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) — also warned Lightfoot to soften her promise to end aldermanic prerogative, the unwritten rule that gives a local alderman iron-fisted control over zoning and licensing in his or her ward.
But Lightfoot said Friday she’s not backing off from ending the longstanding tradition at the heart of the Burke scandal and nearly every other aldermanic conviction over the years.
She plans to issue an executive order on May 20 — inauguration day — ending aldermanic privilege and establishing a two-term limit for the mayor and committee chairmen.
“If you’ve got 50 separate fiefdoms that you have to deal with on issues like affordable housing, [or] just getting a sign on your building, it makes doing business with the city of Chicago damn near impossible,” she said.
“If we’re gonna really be true to the mandate for change . . . we cannot have a circumstance where an individual alderman can exercise unilateral control over virtually everything that goes on in their ward . . . We cannot have 50 separate aldermen having unchecked power to play Caesar on everything that goes on.”
As for the line-up of committee chairmen, Lightfoot said it’ll be a give-and-take. She’s prepared to work with aldermen to strike a balance between identifying council leaders she can trust and committee chairmen aldermen can swallow.
She refused to pinpoint a choice for Finance Committee chairman. But pressed to identify the aldermen she trusts, she mentioned several of her early supporters.
In addition to Beale, they include: Progressive Caucus Chairman Scott Waguespack (32nd); Hispanic Caucus Chairman Gilbert Villegas (36th); Aviation Committee Chairman Matt O’Shea (19th); Special Events Committee Chairman Tom Tunney (44th); and Aldermen Derrick Curtis (18th) and Michael Scott Jr. (24th).