Some people assume running against Chicago’s longest-serving, most powerful alderman is a slam dunk now that Edward M. Burke (14th) is facing a federal corruption charge.
The candidates challenging him know better.
“It’s hard,” said 28-year-old civil engineer Tanya Patino as she campaigned door-to-door one evening in Gage Park.
Patino wasn’t referring to the cold or the howling wind that threatened to blow away her campaign materials.
She was talking about the difficulty of getting people to choose sides against the only alderman the ward has known for 50 years, a candidate with $12 million in campaign funds and a corresponding hoard of political chits.
There’s no doubt Burke is beatable, given his legal problems and the ward’s overwhelmingly Latino population.
But defeating him will require a strong campaign and a high voter turnout, agree Patino and 38-year-old lawyer Jaime Guzman, who are shaping up as Burke’s two opponents on the Feb. 26 ballot.
“A lot of people still aren’t aware of the news,” Patino said.
“The news,” of course, is that Burke was charged with attempted extortion, accused of trying to obtain legal business from the owner of a Burger King franchise that needed his approval for a remodeling.
Fewer still, Patino said, know Burke was Donald Trump’s real estate tax lawyer in Chicago, a politically potent issue in a community where nine of every 10 residents are Latino, most of Mexican heritage.
Then, there are those who know all that but, for various reasons, remain reluctant to commit their support to someone besides Burke.
“I think some people are thinking about it,” said Patino. “A lot of women are excited for me.”
That evening, some who answered their doors promised to vote for Patino, asked for yard signs and thanked her for running. A former Burke political worker hugged her while gushing that he’d never seen a candidate go door-to-door in the neighborhood.
It was encouraging for Patino, who lives with her parents in Archer Heights and quit a job at Peoples Gas to devote full-time to the election.
Patino’s campaign received a big boost earlier this month when she was endorsed by U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who carried the ward handily in his 2015 campaign against Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
She got another lift Thursday when a third Burke challenger, Jose Luis Torrez, dropped out, promising to help her campaign. Torrez, also a Garcia loyalist, said he withdrew at the congressman’s request.
The alliance could bring as many as 100 Torrez volunteers to Patino. But it also fueled an opposition narrative that Garcia is acting like an old-school political boss and that she’s just another pawn.
Patino said she has no concerns about that because the voters she meets generally hold Garcia in high regard.
The 14th Ward draws voters from five Southwest Side neighborhoods — Gage Park, Archer Heights, West Elsdon, Brighton Park and Garfield Ridge.
Patino soon will open a campaign office kitty corner from Burke’s 14th Ward office on 51st Street. Her campaign has been operating out of the Gage Park basement of her boyfriend, newly elected state Rep. Aaron Ortiz.
In November, Ortiz defeated Burke’s brother, Rep. Daniel Burke, one of several victories for Garcia’s allies that emboldened progressive Latinos to think they could bring down the alderman.
But Daniel Burke bested Ortiz by 145 votes in the 14th Ward, Guzman points out. He also notes Burke has a base of maybe 4,000 conservative-minded voters — many of them Republicans who voted for Trump.
“It takes a lot more than a Chuy endorsement to win 14,” said Guzman, a longtime member of Garcia’s political organization who admits being disappointed when the congressman endorsed Patino. He believes he’s better qualified.
The 38-year-old Gage Park resident cites his experience working in the 22nd Ward office of Ald. Ric Munoz and in Garcia’s Cook County commissioner office. He got his law license in 2015 and now works for the Pilsen Law Center.
Guzman said Garcia hasn’t asked him to drop out, as he did with Torrez, and said he hasn’t asked for Garcia’s support.
Guzman said he will stay in the race and see what develops.
A fourth candidate, Irene Corral, isn’t expected to survive a challenge to her nominating petitions.
A challenge to Patino’s petitions also has yet to be finally resolved, but a Chicago Board of Election Commissioners hearing examiner has indicated he supports putting her on the ballot. That may yet lead to a lawsuit over the question of whether Patino was disqualified from running because she signed Torrez’ nominating petitions before joining the race herself.
Although Burke has been notoriously stingy about spending his campaign funds, he’s expected to sink as much as $1 million into his re-election — leaving plenty to pay the legal bills ahead.
Patino and Guzman have reported raising less than $20,000 each, another reason Burke can’t be written off.