Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants Ald. Edward Burke (14th) out as chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee — and the votes would probably be there to make it happen — now that federal corruption charges have been filed against Chicago’s most powerful and longest-serving alderman.
“Based on what we’ve seen in the complaint, the mayor believes it is unacceptable for him to continue as chairman of the Finance Committee,” a top mayoral aide, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Chicago Sun-Times just minutes after reading the 37-page complaint filed against Burke.
If Burke is removed as Finance chairman, he would be replaced by Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), vice-chairman of the Finance Committee who just happens to be Emanuel’s City Council floor leader.
That could happen in one of two ways.
Burke could step down voluntarily — and relinquish the bodyguards, chauffeured-driven vehicles and other trappings of power — acknowledging the difficulty of handling the most sensitive legislation while fighting corruption charges.
Or Emanuel could ask his City Council allies to vote to remove Burke. The top mayoral aide did not explain which route the mayor would go.
Burke is popular with his colleagues and knows more about city government and Chicago history in general and parliamentary rules in particular than his 49 colleagues combined.
But that support is expected to melt away, now that Burke has been charged in an old-fashioned Chicago extortion scheme. With the election less than eight weeks away, even Burke’s closest allies will likely be forced to abandon him.
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, said he’s hoping to avoid an embarrassing Council showdown.
“If it got to be that uncomfortable, I think Burke would probably step down himself,” Sawyer said.
“But if it continues on and there’s tape and verifiable evidence, then the Council probably would make that move.”
Although City Council reorganizations are almost always dictated by the mayor’s office, Sawyer advised Emanuel to let aldermen take the lead on this one.
“The Council is supposed to be the one to vote up or down on chairs of committees. I’ve always believed the Council should be responsible for that,” he said.
“Whatever action does take place, it should be Council action. It should not be dictated from the mayor’s office. It should be something that’s organic from the 49 other members of the Council.”
After the unprecedented Nov. 29 raid on Burke’s ward and City Hall offices, Emanuel argued that it was too soon to remove Burke as Finance chairman because he had not yet been charged. He can’t say that now.
Six years ago, Emanuel rocked the boat with a pre-election threat to reorganize the City Council and strip Burke of his police bodyguards and, possibly, the Finance Committee chairmanship that’s the primary source of his power.
He ended up retaining Burke, cutting his police detail in half, eliminating three committees and reducing committee spending by 20 percent.
Since then, the two political powerhouses have developed a working relationship not unlike the one that Burke had with former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
They don’t necessarily trust one another. But they don’t mess with each another, either. In fact, they have been generally supportive of each other’s programs.
Last year, Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) condemned as a “disgrace” Burke’s decision to file yet another lawsuit aimed at winning property tax refunds for the hotel and vacant retail space in the riverfront tower that bears Trump’s name.
Emanuel pointedly refused to join Pawar in condemning Burke.
That’s even though Burke’s sixth lawsuit sought to deprive the city and its public schools of millions of dollars in sorely needed revenue and put that money into the pockets of, as Pawar put it, a “racist and a bigot and a demagogue” who has “demonized” Chicago and its immigrant population.
“The point is not about Burke. The point is where is the city as it relates to the president. And I couldn’t have been clearer,” Emanuel said then.
During the 1990s, the Chicago Sun-Times ran a series of stories detailing the alleged conflicts between Burke’s position as Finance Committee chairman and his private role as a lawyer.
The newspaper disclosed how Burke used a rare parliamentary maneuver to change the record of four past City Council votes involving his airlines clients dating back as far as seven years.
After that controversy, there were demands that Burke relinquish his Finance Committee chairmanship and that then-Mayor Richard M. Daley force the issue.
Daley took a pass, just as Emanuel did in 2011.
Both men apparently decided that it was better to take advantage of Burke’s encyclopedic knowledge of Chicago history, city government and where the political bodies are buried at City Hall than it was to take him on.
As the saying goes, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”
But now that Burke has officially been charged, even that Machiavellian rule no longer applies.
Emanuel, who threatened Burke only to back off, will be able to say that he was mayor when the City Council giant was slain.
O’Connor could not be reached for comment after the charges against Burke were filed.
In the days and weeks that followed federal raids on Burke’s ward and City Hall offices, O’Connor has emphatically refused to comment on the federal investigation of a colleague with whom he has served since O’Connor joined the City Council in 1983.
During the Council Wars power struggle that saw 29 mostly-white aldermen led by Burke and then-Ald. Edward Vrdolyak (10th) thwart then-Mayor Harold Washington’s every move, O’Connor was a loyal member of the so-called Vrdolyak 29.
Tanya Patino, a candidate for 14th Ward alderman endorsed by newly-elected Congressman Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, won’t be satisfied if Burke is deposed as Finance chairman.
Citing Burke’s “long history of putting his personal business interests before” the needs of his constituents, Patino demanded that Burke drop out of the race.
“It is long overdue for Ed Burke to resign. And today, with this indictment, I’m calling on him to do what’s best for the residents of Chicago and 14th Ward and immediately resign from this office and withdraw from the race,” she said.