Burke’s mercenaries: Most of alderman’s political army live outside his ward
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A state senator. A City Hall lobbyist. A banned former city contractor. And a smattering of city workers.
They’re all part of Ald. Edward M. Burke’s political army, which gathered 7,193 signatures on the nominating petitions he submitted to election officials last month to secure a spot on the February ballot.
It’s the toughest election fight the 74-year-old power broker has faced since replacing his late father on the Chicago City Council in 1969.
Burke is in the crosshairs of an investigation that saw FBI agents raid his City Hall and 14th Ward offices over the past few weeks as he’s battling four Hispanic opponents who say it’s time for voters in the predominantly Hispanic ward to end the 50-year reign of the longest-serving alderman in Chicago history.
His fate could be in the hands of his longtime political operative Peter Andrews Jr., a retired Chicago Park District plumber, who found federal agents on the porch of his house shortly before they raided the alderman’s offices.
Andrews, who moved out of Burke’s Southwest Side ward about two decades ago, headed the volunteer army that collected far more signatures for Burke than the 473 that aldermanic candidates needed to be on the ballot for the Feb. 26 election.
Like Andrews, who has declined interview requests, 80 percent of the 73 volunteers who collected signatures for Burke’s re-election bid can’t vote for him because they don’t live in his ward. Ten of them live in the suburbs, from Park Ridge to Lemont.
Burke’s volunteers included 23 who, in addition to helping to get him on the ballot, collected 1,351 signatures for Gery Chico, a longtime Burke ally who is among the 21 candidates vying to succeed Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Chico spokeswoman Kelley Quinn says Burke “was one of many dozens of people across the city to help Gery circulate petitions and collect signatures.”
Another Burke volunteer, Michael J. Synowiecki, gathered 121 signatures for mayoral candidate Susana Mendoza, who was recently won re-election as Illinois’ state comptroller. In a ceremony performed by Burke’s wife, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, Mendoza and her husband were married at the Burkes’ home in December 2011, a week before they were married by a priest in Joliet.
Synowiecki, 32, who lives in Burke’s ward, was one of the alderman’s top volunteers, getting nearly 400 signatures for him. Synowiecki once worked as an attorney for the City Council Committee on Finance that the alderman has run for decades.
Now a lawyer with the law firm of Daley & Georges, headed by mayoral candidate William Daley’s brother Michael Daley, Synowiecki is a registered lobbyist at City Hall. One of his clients, Utility Transport Services, has been awarded three contracts totaling more than $144 million to provide rock and other materials to the city’s water department for construction projects. Utility Transport’s owner, James Bracken, has another company, Brackenbox, that has a $60 million contract to provide roll-off dumpsters at city work sites.
Synowiecki is married to a great-niece of Anne Burke, Meaghan Cleary Synowiecki, who works for the city council finance committee. She notarized 173 nominating petitions for Burke and 293 for Chico.
State Sen. Martin A. Sandoval, D-Chicago, whose district includes part of Burke’s ward, collected 60 signatures for the alderman.
Burke turned in 20 signatures gathered by Anthony McMahon, a Park Ridge resident who got caught up in a scandal involving Windy City Electric, a company owned by his wife and sister in law. The company was barred from getting any city work after the city’s inspector general determined that McMahon and his brother controlled the company as it was landing contracts set aside for businesses owned by women.
One of Burke’s staff assistants on the finance committee, David Espinoza, collected 121 signatures to help his boss seek re-election. Espinoza also notarized nominating petitions with 4,081 signatures for Burke and 126 signatures for Chico.
Raul Reyes, an employee in the Chicago city clerk’s office who once worked with Burke’s brother, outgoing state Rep. Dan Burke, gathered 61 signatures for the alderman. Reyes has also filed a challenge to the petitions circulated by one of Burke’s opponents, Tanya Patino, in the aldermanic election.
Burke himself circulated seven petitions, collecting 67 signatures towards his re-election bid. The alderman, his wife and their son Travis Burke signed a petition on Nov. 3, a few weeks before federal investigators raided his offices.
Andrews had circulated that petition, which was notarized by Synowiecki’s wife, one of the employees on the alderman’s city council payroll.