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Chico tries to distance himself from Ald. Edward Burke

Gery Chico tried Friday to distance himself from Ald. Edward Burke (14th) and explain how he intends to sever ties with the law firm that bears his name if he’s elected mayor to avoid potential conflicts.

During the early 1980s, Chico served as chief of policy for the Burke-chaired City Council 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.

Burke and his co-hort, then-Ald. Edward Vrdolyak (10th), were ringleaders of the so-called “Vrdolyak 29.”

Earlier this week, mayoral rival Lori Lightfoot questioned how Chico, one of only two Hispanic candidates in the race, could have stood by silently while Burke acted as an obstructionist during Council Wars.

“How does this man of color — who talks a lot about his Mexican roots growing up as a working-class kid — sit there day after day during the height of Council Wars while Ed Burke unleashed every nasty, racist epithet he could think of against the city’s first black mayor?” Lightfoot said.

On Friday, Chico fired back.

He acknowledged having been uncomfortable with some of Burke’s extremist positions, including demanding Harold Washington’s resignation after missing the deadline for filing his ethics statement.

“Upon hindsight, of course, some of those positions were just wrong. We should have never held up Harold Washington’s appointments. It made no sense. I don’t know why that was being done,” Chico said.

“An alternative budget? Who knows? You may see that again depending on where this [new] City Council goes …. [But] those were extreme positions. They were wrong. Let’s hope we’ve learned and we can do better going forward.”

If he felt so strongly that Burke was being an obstructionist, Chico was asked whether he communicated those sentiments to the chairman.

“I’m not afraid of the boss . . . I’m not gonna quote how we talked. But I was dismayed by some of the things. I was dismayed at the office,” Chico said.

Why didn’t he quit?

“I had a family. . . . I can’t just quit,” Chico said.

“It was a very unique time in our history. You have the benefit of hindsight with perspective to see that those decisions that they made were wrong,” he added. “And you learn from it, you take it forward and you try never to commit those wrongs again.”

Chico and Burke remained close friends and political allies.

In the 2011 mayoral race, Burke sided with Chico against Rahm Emanuel. In fact, Emanuel privately blamed Burke for being the heavy hand behind the residency challenge that nearly forced Emanuel off the ballot.

In late October, Burke all but endorsed Chico again by saying there is “probably nobody more qualified than he is.”

One month later, federal investigators raided Burke’s City Hall and ward offices.

Five weeks after that, Burke was charged with attempted extortion for allegedly shaking down a Burger King franchise owner for legal business and for a $10,000 campaign contribution for Toni Preckwinkle’s re-election campaign as county board president.

On Friday, Chico made no apologies for refusing to sever ties with Burke.

“You maintain your relationships — as many as you can — because you need a network to perform your job,” he said.

“When I was over at CPS and I needed something done financially for the city, was I supposed to have an alienation with the person who could say yes or no to our finance needs? … We brought over $100 million in TIF requests one time to build schools. I’m not supposed to know who the finance chairman is? That would almost make me derelict in my duty.”

From 1995 until 2001, mayoral candidate Paul Vallas served as schools CEO in a dream-team pairing with then-school board president Chico.

Vallas has hammered Chico for abstaining from hundreds of school board votes during that six-year period to avoid potential conflicts of interest with Chico’s law firm.

On Friday, Chico called himself an attorney — not a lobbyist — and said he only lobbies government employees and elected officials “on very small occasions.”

“If I’m privileged to be elected mayor by the people of this city, I will leave that firm, take my name off the door and concentrate solely on the business of the people of Chicago,” Chico told the Sun-Times.