Lightfoot says Burke should resign; time to ‘focus on himself and his family and move on’

Hours after Burke pleaded not guilty to racketeering, bribery and extortion charges, Lightfoot said Burke has not responded to her demand that he resign from the City Council.

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Alderman Edward M. Burke, left, flanked by his attorneys, walks out of the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, Tuesday, June 4, 2019, in Chicago. Burke pleaded not guilty to federal political corruption charges.

Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times via AP

Ald. Edward Burke (14th) is entitled to a “presumption of innocence,” but can’t continue to function as an alderman with the “sword of Damocles” hanging over his head, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday.

Hours after Burke appeared in federal court to plead not guilty to racketeering, bribery and extortion charges, Lightfoot said Burke has not responded to her demand that he resign from the City Council, nor does she expect him to do so.

But, that didn’t stop the mayor from renewing the demand she made five days ago, when Chicago’s longest serving alderman was charged under a racketeering law normally reserved for mobsters.

“This is a terrible time for him. A terrible time for his family. … It’s a tragedy for our city,” Lightfoot said.

“What he ought to do is focus on resolving these very serious criminal charges. I can’t see how he can properly function as an alderman. ... It’s black mark on our city, a sad day. And I would urge him to think about the best interests of his constituents and to resign,” she added.

“He’s had a 50-year career. He’s done a lot of things over the course of that career. It’s time for him to focus on himself and his family and move on.”

The law requires aldermen to forfeit their offices only upon conviction. Former Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) continued to serve until he pleaded guilty to wire fraud in March.

Why should Burke submit a resignation that would be viewed, in the court of public opinion, as an admission of guilt, when his attorneys are promising to fight a 14-count indictment they have called “unfounded and not based on factual evidence”?

“We’re not talking about proof beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s the criminal standard. We’re talking about, do you have the moral authority and legitimacy to be able to be a public servant and serve your constituents, which is a very different standard. And I don’t believe he can do that,” she said.

Although Burke was easily re-elected after being charged with attempted extortion, 14th Ward voters knew, only “a slice of what now is a multi-layered” indictment alleging Burke used “his power and the tools of government to further himself” over many years, Lightfoot said.

Ald. Ed Burke (14th) spars with Mayor Lori Lightfoot at May 2019 City Council meeting.

Ald. Ed Burke (14th) spars with Mayor Lori Lightfoot during her first Chicago City Council meeting last week.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

“That is a damning indictment against him and our system of government and the only way that we’re gonna be able to restore trust and legitimacy in government is if we don’t have the U.S. Attorney’s office and the FBI essentially acting as our oversight body for people who are engaged in, not only misconduct, but criminal conduct,” the mayor said.

One day before the feds brought the hammer down on Burke using recordings gathered by FBI mole and former Zoning Committee Chairman Danny Solis (25th), Burke all-but-invited Lightfoot to humiliate him during an early skirmish on the City Council floor.

It happened after Burke inexplicably stood during her first City Council meeting to complain that the Council rules her administration had drafted were not gender-neutral.

On Tuesday, Lightfoot was asked how uncomfortable future council meetings will be if Burke continues to take his front-row seat.

“It’s gonna be very difficult. I mean — if you watched the body language of the people who were sitting in the front row with him” it was “very telling,” Lightfoot said.

“It’s like the sword of Damocles quite literally hanging over his head. It’s gonna be difficult for him to function in his ward. It’s gonna be difficult for him to function with his colleagues. People are on edge. And I understand why they would be.”

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