The City Council’s most powerful alderman on Monday threw his formidable support behind Gery Chico in the crowded race to replace Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
“I like Gery Chico. As you know, he and I go back a long way. He worked for me here in City Hall. And there’s probably nobody more qualified than he is,” said Ald. Edward Burke (14th), chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee.
After a stint in the city’s Department of Planning and Development, Chico served as chief of policy for the Finance Committee during the tumultuous period known as “Council Wars” that saw a group of 29 mostly-white aldermen thwart then-Mayor Harold Washington’s every move.
They have been close friends and political allies ever since. Burke also sided with Chico during the 2011 mayoral campaign that saw Chico nearly force Emanuel into a runoff.
It’s not surprising, then, that Burke is once again supporting Chico.
That’s even though there has been political speculation that Burke may be working behind the scenes to cut a deal with County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in hopes of being retained as Finance Chairman for one more term during a Preckwinkle administration.
Chico welcomed the endorsement from the City Council dean, who celebrated 50 years in politics in early March and is now embroiled in a fight for his political life.
“Having Ald. Burke’s support is very important to our campaign. He’s the longest-sitting alderman who has contributed much over the decades to the city,” Chico said Monday.
“His network of supporters will take a hard look at our campaign and, hopefully, we will make them our supporters as well.”
Asked about his own re-election bid, Burke responded with a rare show of humility.
“I’m doing the best I can and it’s up to the good voters of the 14th Ward,” said Burke, who is going door-to-door in the majority Hispanic ward in search of votes.
Still, Burke said this won’t be his most difficult election: “The toughest campaign I had was my first one. … There even was a candidate by the name of Ed Burke in that race. Can you believe that?”
Burke did quickly note he defeated his closest opponent in that race by a 10-to-1 margin.
Burke has had a political bull’s-eye on his back since his brother, state Rep. Dan Burke (D-Chicago), was defeated by political newcomer Aaron Ortiz in a primary race dominated by Edward Burke’s property tax reduction work for the riverfront hotel and condominium tower bearing the name of President Donald Trump.
Burke has since cited “irreconcilable differences” for his decision to stop representing Trump. That hasn’t stopped County Commissioner-turned-Democratic Congressional nominee Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and his allies from recruiting a challenger.
Burke’s endorsement of Chico draws a sharp contrast between him and mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot.
Lightfoot has unveiled a sweeping ethics plan that would, among other things, prohibit city employees, elected and appointed officials from holding paid side jobs that “conflict with the city’s interests” and shift control over Chicago’s $100 million-a-year worker’s compensation program to the executive branch and away from Burke.
“We are not gonna continue to have aldermen who are profiting from their positions. That is unacceptable. It’s unethical. And it flies in the face of anything that even remotely resembles good government. I’m not gonna stand for it,” she said.
Emanuel once threatened to depose Burke as Finance Committee chairman or strip Burke of his personal bodyguards before reaching a political accommodation that has benefited both men.
But, Lightfoot has said: “I’m not making peace with anybody … who is not gonna put the taxpayers of this city first. … I’m putting a very specific stake in the ground that this must change. The mayor hasn’t taken on that issue. And shame on him. But, I am and I will.”