The Donald and The Alderman break up; Burke no longer doing tax work for Trump
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“Irreconcilable differences” have led to countless divorces. Now, the same reason is being given for the breakup of President Donald Trump and Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th).
The powerful Chicago alderman’s small law firm had worked for Trump for 12 years, persuading Cook County officials to cut the property taxes on the president’s namesake downtown skyscraper by a total of more than $14 million.
But Burke announced his breakup with Trump in letters filed last month with the Cook County courts and the Illinois State Property Tax Appeal Board. He wrote that “irreconcilable differences” have led his firm to stop representing Trump’s company and step aside in five current cases that seek refunds of millions of dollars in property taxes the president’s company has paid.
Those letters came two months after the alderman’s brother, state Rep. Dan Burke, narrowly lost a Democratic primary battle amid Hispanic voters’ outrage that the alderman was doing work for a president who wants to build a wall to thwart illegal immigration from Mexico.
In next February’s city election, Ed Burke, the city’s longest-serving alderman, is seeking another term representing his Southwest Side ward, where an overwhelming majority of the residents are Hispanic, primarily Mexican Americans.
The alderman has been criticized over his relationship with the president by former mayoral candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who’s now running for Congress.
“Donald Trump began his campaign for the presidency attacking the Mexican-American community,” Garcia said in a Chicago Sun-Times interview in April. “The fact that he has been Trump’s lawyer on reducing his property taxes and has been part of the property tax system in Chicago that has affected working people more than anybody else in a regressive manner are issues that have to be taken into account. It was highly offensive to the community. Anyone who isn’t representing the community’s interests should be worried.
Clem Balanoff — a longtime Garcia ally and chief strategist for Aaron Ortiz, who defeated Dan Burke in the Democratic primary despite being outspent 3-to-1 — said Ed Burke’s move to distance himself from Trump is “one more indication of just how afraid Ed Burke is.”
Burke, 74, didn’t respond to interview requests. A representative of The Trump Organization couldn’t be reached.
The law firm of Mayer Brown has taken over five property tax appeal cases that had been filed by the alderman’s firm, Klafter & Burke, on behalf of Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago. Mayer Brown attorney Patrick McNerney declined to discuss those cases, which have been languishing for as long as seven years.
Trump’s change in law firms isn’t expected to cause any additional delays, according to a spokeswoman for Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, whose real estate tax division is contesting the property tax refunds that Burke had been seeking for the skyscraper’s hotel and retail spaces.
Burke is one of the 47 Chicago aldermen who approved development plans for Trump International Hotel & Tower in 2002.
He also is among the powerful Illinois politicians who have law firms that specialize in property tax work. They get hired to persuade other elected officials — like the Cook County assessor and the Cook County Board of Review — to lower the estimated value of real estate, resulting a smaller tax bill. The firms typically collect a percentage of the tax cuts they win for their clients.
It’s unclear why Trump had hired Burke’s firm rather than another powerhouse law firm, such as the one headed by Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, D-Chicago.
Trump Tower was still under construction when Burke began representing Trump in 2006.
Between 2009 and 2015, Burke saved Trump more than $14.1 million in taxes by persuading the assessor or the Board of Review or both to lower the value of condos, hotel rooms and retail space owned by Trump, the Sun-Times previously has reported.
Arguing that Trump’s tax bills were still too high in many of those years, Burke filed additional appeals with the courts and the state tax appeal board.
City Hall objected to the Trump case that Burke filed in 2010, which led him to step aside and turn over the case to another law firm, Deutsch, Levy & Engel. That case remains pending.
City Hall didn’t challenge any the cases Burke filed on behalf of Trump in 2011, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. Those cases are ongoing.
Burke’s firm also handles appeals on property taxes on the AT&T building, 225 W. Randolph, now owned by Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner. The telecommunications giant sold the property to Kushner and leases it back from him under an agreement that calls for AT&T to pay the real estate taxes. AT&T uses Burke’s firm to seek property tax cuts on the building.
Contributing: Fran Spielman