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FOP sticks with Burke, despite attempted extortion charge against him

14th Ward aldermanic incumbent Ed Burke federal extortion charges 2019 election ashlee rezin

14th Ward aldermanic candidate and incumbent Ed Burke, shown here outside the Dirksen Federal Courthouse earlier this month. Federal prosecutors have charged him with extortion. Burke is staying in the aldermanic race. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Ald. Edward Burke (14th) is facing a federal extortion charge that already has cost him the Finance Committee chairmanship that has been his political power base for decades.

But there’s one thing Chicago’s longest-serving alderman hasn’t lost: the loyal support of the Fraternal Order of Police.

The union representing rank-and-file Chicago Police officers has endorsed Burke for re-election, even after a criminal complaint filed in federal court accused the alderman of shaking down a Burger King franchise owner for legal business and a $10,000 campaign contribution to County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

“We are supporting Ed Burke because he has supported us and because we, unlike the Tribune and Sun Times, believe a man is presumed innocent until he is proven guilty,” Martin Preib, the FOP’s second vice-president, wrote in a statement to the Chicago Sun-Times.

“Furthermore, we believe that people should be tried in courts, not in [the] court of public opinion, as the acquittal of three officers last week and likely vote for a payout to the Englewood Four this week demonstrates.”

The FOP’s decision to stick with Burke is not surprising, given the alderman’s background and longstanding support for the police union.

Burke started his career as a Chicago Police officer assigned to the state’s attorney’s office. He’s also a former chairman of the City Council’s Police Committee, and has written a book on Chicago Police officers killed in the line of duty.

Garry McCarthy (left), Ed Burke (right)

This May 2013 photo shows CPD’s then-Supt. Garry McCarthy and Ald. Ed Burke at the 81st Annual Chicago Police Department St. Jude Memorial March on Museum Campus Drive. | Sun-Times file photo

In addition, the FOP needs all of the friends it can get in the City Council if it hopes to win approval of a new police contract to replace the one that expired more than 18 months ago.

The City Council’s Black Caucus is threatening to hold up ratification of any police contract that continues to make it “easy for officers to lie” by giving them 24 hours before providing a statement after a shooting and includes “impediments to accountability” that prohibit anonymous complaints, allow officers to change statements after reviewing video and requires sworn affidavits.

Burke was one of only a few City Council votes the FOP could count on. He could not be reached for comment.

“It’s not surprising, given his longstanding relationship with the police. In the wake of the Laquan McDonald video unleashing, he still had the audacity to say on the Council floor that there were no institutional issues at the Chicago Police Department,” said Jaime Guzman, one of two serious challengers vying to end Burke’s 50-year reign as 14th Ward alderman.

“But it’s unfortunate. It continues to show that, when it pertains to public safety, it’s a one-sided conversation on how we look at police officers and what they need to do their job well. As we’re inching toward $1 billion in liability from police misconduct, we’re not looking at how to build bridges with the community.”

Aldermanic challenger Tanya Patino could not be reached for comment on the FOP’s endorsement of Burke. Neither could newly-elected Congressman
Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who has endorsed Patino over Burke.

Like Burke, Ald. Nick Sposato (38th) is a staunch supporter of the FOP. His Northwest Side Ward is home to scores of police officers and firefighters.

Sposato applauded the police union for standing by Burke when nearly everybody else is running away from the man who, until Jan. 4, was the City Council’s most powerful alderman.

“He’s backed them in the past so they continue to support him. … There’s a presumption of innocence for all three of my colleagues,” Sposato said.

Sposato was referring to Ald. Willie Cochran (20th), who is awaiting trial on federal corruption charges, Rick Munoz (22nd), who’s been charged with domestic violence, and Burke.

“You should be doing a story about how all of these people who are turning their backs on Burke. They didn’t know him. They’re giving him his money back,” Sposato said.

“Where I come from, we support our friends and stand behind them. I don’t condone wrongdoing. But I’m a big believer in the presumption of innocence. He has not been convicted of anything.”