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EDITORIAL: The Other Chicago Loop

Ald. Edward M. Burke’s law firm found a way to profit off a city-owned parking garage at Midway Airport — another insider deal that sickens us.

The Midway Airport rental car facility, 5150 W. 55th St. Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times

Now that Cook County homeowners have reached deep into their pockets to pay the second installment of their property tax bills, it’s a good time to reflect on this sad fact: The system is designed to favor insiders.

In Sunday’s Chicago Sun-Times, Tim Novak reported how Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) — a quintessential government insider — collected nearly $2 million in refunds and interest for rental-car companies who leased space at a city-owned parking garage at Midway Airport.

It’s the other version of the Chicago Loop: The City Council, of which Burke is a member, agrees to build a parking garage, and then Burke’s law firm represents companies who use it. Burke files property-tax appeals on their behalves, eventually winning them tax refunds, from which Burke’s law firm typically gets an undisclosed cut.

That Burke abstained from voting when the Council agreed to build the parking garage does not lift the stench of insider dealing.

As we’ve written in the past, coziness doesn’t always make us feel comfy. Not when it involves insiders who can game the system.

If you’re looking for an explanation of how all this could happen, you won’t get any farther than this: Scott Smith, spokesman for Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi, who recently took office after beating former Assessor Joseph Berrios in the 2018 Democratic primary, said: “We haven’t seen any information that explains the thinking that went into these reductions” for Burke’s Midway clients.

No information? For tax refunds that were among the largest Cook County has issued in the past 10 years?

This sickens us. When the assessor hands out lower property assessments to big businesses, those of us without connections have to make up the difference.

Another example of the Other Chicago Loop: Former Mayor Richard M. Daley signed a contract in 2011 to hire Walsh Construction to build the Midway parking garage for what turned out to be a cost of $74.8 million. Walsh Construction is a client of — you guessed it — Burke’s law firm.

There are no accusations that the parking garage refunds in any way are connected to the racketeering and bribery charges that federal authorities have brought against Burke.

But that, in a way, is another part of the problem.

The Other Chicago Loop is accepted as business as usual. Until lawmakers take stronger steps to prevent insider dealing, we’re all on the outside looking in.

SOURCE: Cook County clerk

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