If Wednesday was the political swan song of retiring Ald. Will Burns (4th), Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s staunchest City Council supporter in the African-American community went out loudly.
With the freedom that comes with not having to face Chicago voters, Burns carried the rhetorical argument for a watered down ordinance empowering Inspector General Joe Ferguson to investigate aldermen, but not to audit their expense accounts, menu programs, worker’s compensation or other programs they administer.
After wearing the jacket, Burns was honored by colleagues who gave him a standing ovation.
Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th) called Burns “one of the best I’ve seen” in nearly 47 years on the City Council.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel told Burns, “I don’t believe you’re leaving public life. You will come back to public life. It’s part of your calling.”
When it was his turn to speak, Burns told his soon-to-be-former colleagues that it was “an honor to serve with you” and that the people of Chicago “don’t know the work the people in this room do because the news media doesn’t cover it.
“You all make this city work. … It’s a shame that the word alderman is perjorative. It should not be. You all are the heroes of this city,” he said.
After taking photos with all of the City Council’s different caucuses, Burns said he is leaving the City Council one year after cruising to re-election with support from President Barack Obama because he got an offer he can’t refuse from Airbnb.
“It was just a great opportunity and a great company. It’s good for me and my family,” he said.
Burns helped the mayor improve his South Side ground game on the way to capture nearly 58 percent of the black vote in the April 7 runoff.
Emanuel rewarded Burns for his loyalty by making him chairman of the City Council’s $205,609-a-year Education Committee, even though more senior aldermen thought they deserved it more. Burns had already played a key role on the mayoral commission that recommendedraising Chicago’s minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2019.
He was also a proponent of Emanuel’s ethics and education agendas.
Burns forged his political alliance with Emanuel before the unrelenting furor over Emanuel’s handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.
Now, African-American elected officials viewed as close to the mayor are likely to face a backlash among black voters who no longer trust the mayor and are not inclined to give him a third chance.
That puts Burns, a former state representative who wanted desperately to run for Congress, in a political box he needed to get out of.
But, Burns insisted Wednesday that uncomfortable position had nothing to do with his sudden exit.
“Not at all. I got elected with 55 percent of the vote. No runoff against multiple candidates,” he said.
Burns is joining Airbnb at a time when the home-sharing giant is finally facing city regulation that includes Emanuel’s proposal to slap a 2 percent surcharge on the booking of any shared housing unit, bed-and-breakfast or vacation rental.
But, Burns insisted Wednesday that there is no conflict.
“I’m going to obey all applicable laws and regulations. I’m the point-person on ethics,” he said.
“There’s a year period where I cannot register as a lobbyist for the city. I cannot do that. Whatever the law says is what I’m going to abide by.”