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Ald. Burke keeping mum on shovel, ghost probes

Ald. Burke moves past the press at the start of a City Council Committee on Finance meeting on Oct. 24, 1997. Photo by Al Podgorski/Sun-Times

Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) walked into a recording studio one morning recently and put himself on tape – voluntarily. In these days of Operation Silver Shovel, that’s got to be a first for a Chicago alderman.

Burke, City Council dean and powerful Finance Committee chairman, wasn’t providing new fodder for federal investigators probing City Hall corruption. He was participating in a weeklong Record-a-Thon for the blind and dyslexic by reading his soon-to-be-released book A History of Political Conventions in Chicago.

For Burke, a master media manipulator, it was a dream appearance. It also was a sharp contrast to the “other” Edward M. Burke – the veteran politician now hunkering down and refusing to comment about the corruption probe enveloping City Hall, even though his brother may be right in the thick of it.

“I think I’ve been very forthright about that subject (Operation Silver Shovel): I don’t have a comment. . . I don’t care to get involved,” Burke said last week during a break in the book recording session.

State Rep. Dan Burke (D-Chicago), the alderman’s brother, hasn’t stopped talking about Operation Silver Shovel and the plea agreement signed by convicted Ald. Allan Streeter (17th).

Dan Burke has identified himself as the “Legislator C” who discussed a proposed change in cemetery legislation with Streeter and an undercover FBI agent. Dan Burke has accused Streeter of trying to “set me up” by insisting that he meet for a second time with the agent. At that meeting, Burke contends, the agent threw an envelope on his desk and stormed out when Burke refused to accept it.

Last week, Dan Burke acknowledged that he has talked to reporters against his older brother’s best advice.

“I didn’t argue,” Dan Burke said. “You know what he’s like. He just said, `What are you talking to her (a Chicago Sun-Times reporter) for?’ I don’t think he looks forward to myself or anyone in our organization attracting attention like that or furthering the commentary.”

A 27-year Council veteran who succeeded his ward boss father, Edward Burke always has enjoyed a special relationship with the media.

He was a one-man news leak during the “Council Wars” power struggle that pitted majority white aldermen against former Mayor Harold Washington. He delivered the eulogy at services for Harry Golden Jr., the veteran Chicago Sun-Times reporter who was dean of the City Hall press corps.

At City Council meetings, his public relations staff sometimes churns out more news releases than Mayor Daley’s 16-employee Press Office. At the latest meeting, Burke introduced three topical ordinances. They included proposed crackdowns on teenage curfew violators and the Dennis Rodman-like murals that stopped traffic on the Kennedy Expy.

But “no comments” are becoming more frequent and calls to the alderman are no longer returned, a marked departure from Burke’s past practice.

Sensitive subjects include:

Ghost payrolling: Burke’s committee was among the first to be subpoenaed in the probe, which has since been merged with Operation Silver Shovel. In January, 1995, Burke accused a former staffer of conniving with Marie D’Amico, daughter of indicted Ald. Anthony C. Laurino (39th), to carry D’Amico on the Finance Committee payroll from 1991 to 1993, even though D’Amico did no work. He has refused to discuss the matter since then.

Brother Dan: Although Dan Burke is vocal about being approached by Streeter and the undercover FBI agent, Edward Burke has refused to discuss the issue.

Rosewell: The long-running federal investigation of County Treasurer Edward J. Rosewell took a turn this month that may involve Edward Burke. WLS-Channel 7 reported that the alderman represented a suburban hotel that got a $12,000 property tax penalty waived by the treasurer.

Dumping: Illinois Appellate Court Justice Anne Burke, the alderman’s wife, formerly represented Lindahl Brothers Inc. The city says the company saved $1 million by depositing construction debris at the infamous West Side dump created by FBI mole John Christopher.

Remap fees: The alderman’s daughter, Jennifer, was hired last fall as an associate by the law firm of Jenner & Block. The firm so far has received $4.35 million in legal fees to defend the City Council majority in the ward remap case in payments controlled by Ald. Burke.

Anne Burke says if there has been a change in her husband’s public persona, it might stem from a disrupted sleep schedule. The couple recently agreed to serve as foster parents for a 9-week-old baby. “Ed covers 10 to 2. I have the rest of the night,” she said. “If you see any change in his behavior, maybe it’s because he’s been up all night feeding the baby.”