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End of an era: Burke loses party post he has held since 1968

State Rep. Aaron Ortiz was nearly 400 votes ahead of 14th Ward Ald. Edward Burke in a three-way race for committeeperson. It’s a job Burke has held since his father’s death in 1968. His dad held it for years before that.

Ald. Edward M. Burke heading to court in January 2019 after being criminally charged.
Ald. Edward M. Burke walks into the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in January 2019 after being charged with attempted extortion.
Sun-Times file

Indicted Ald. Edward Burke (14th) has already been stripped of his two biggest power bases: chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee and head of judicial slatemaking for the Cook County Democratic Party.

Now, he’s lost the one job he has held the longest: 14th Ward Democratic committeeperson.

State Rep. Aaron Ortiz, whose 2018 victory over Burke’s brother Dan was the beginning of the end for the Burke family dynasty, declared victory over Edward Burke in a three-way race. Burke has held the committeeperson job since his father’s death in 1968.

Ortiz got 40.4% of the vote to Burke’s 32.8%. Alicia Elena Martinez got 26.7%, with 29 out of 31 precincts reporting. She was widely viewed as a candidate put up by Burke to divide the vote and pave the way for his re-election.

Out 5,207 votes cast, Ortiz had a nearly 400-vote lead, with 2,103 votes to Burke’s 1,711. Martinez had 1,393.

Burke could not be reached for comment. Dan Burke refused to comment. Ortiz said he did not receive a concession call from either Burke.

Ortiz pointed to the historically-low turnout in the 14th Ward as evidence of a “disconnect” between voters and a ward boss who is out of touch because he stayed too long and didn’t know when to leave.

“I’ve seen other wards and some of the things they’re doing — the 22nd, the 17th and the 47th Wards — providing a space to … invite elected officials that represent those areas to present what it is they do,” he said.

“That’s something we have never had and something I will be accomplishing. Having more community forums to allow for a space for elected officials to talk and get more young people involved in the process of voting. I believe we need to give people an opportunity to engage civically and ask questions.”

As committeeperson, Ortiz will have a major say in who the next aldermen will be. Is he interested in making the move from Springfield to a higher-paying job in Chicago?

“If there is an opportunity to be able to serve my community in a different capacity, I won’t close the doors on any of those opportunities,” he said.

Last year, Burke breezed to reelection as alderman, despite being charged in January 2019 with attempted extortion for allegedly shaking down a Burger King franchise owner for legal business and for a $10,000 campaign contribution to County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

The Burke scandal sank the campaigns of three mayoral candidates — Preckwinkle, Gery Chico and state Comptroller Susana Mendoza — and catapulted Lori Lightfoot into the mayor’s office.

Burke was the only candidate to survive his own scandal.

But that was before he was hit with a 14-count racketeering and extortion indictment accusing him of using his governmental role to muscle business for his law firm.

It included the alleged Burger King shakedown and three similar schemes chronicled by former Zoning Committee Chairman Danny Solis (25th), who spent two years wearing a wire on Burke.

Among them was the accusation that Burke tried to extort legal business from developers of the Old Post Office in exchange for his help with a variety of matters, including an $18 million tax increment finance subsidy, a $100 million tax break and help resolving issues with Amtrak and the city’s Department of Water Management.

Clem Balanoff serves as chairman of Our Revolution Chicago, the grass-roots political organization that grew out of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign.

On the day after Dan Burke’s 2018 defeat, Balanoff set his sights on Edward Burke and boldly predicted the alderman’s defeat.

Little did he know he would have to wait until now to oust Edward Burke — and from a largely ceremonial party job with little power in the post-Shakman era.

Still, Balanoff was gloating.

“Voters who spoke were tired of the old ways — the old pay-to-play. Ed Burke’s going to jail,” Balanoff said.

“He had an entrenched operation in the 14th Ward. And it takes some time to be able to work up the organization and also peoples’ courage to throw it out. He had been charged [before the election]. But it got worse after that. People finally said, ‘Enough is enough.’”

Although ward bosses don’t have the power they once did, Balanoff noted Burke is a “proud guy” who would never voluntarily relinquish power.

Balanoff pointed to a picture of Martinez and her mother with Burke after he won reelection as alderman beside a cake that said, “Congratulations on 50 years.”

“He wanted to hang onto it so bad, he was still trying to figure it out [by dividing the vote]. It’s a very big deal with him,” Balanoff said.

“But, it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.”