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Judges, pols and pals pony up for ‘stand-up guy’ Ed Burke—despite federal probe

Ed Burke has not yet officially landed on the feds’ “naughty” list, but Santa Claus himself joined over a thousand others bearing gifts Tuesday to support Chicago’s most powerful alderman despite the cloud of a federal investigation.

The St. Nick lookalike rode past the Sheraton Grand atop a firetruck bearing a sign declaring “I’m for Ald. Ed Burke,” as the Friends of Edward M. Burke showed themselves to be friends indeed.

They turned out in mass for Burke’s annual holiday fundraiser supporting one of his political committees, just five days after federal investigators raided the alderman’s City Hall and 14th Ward offices.

Hundreds arrived at the ritzy hotel more than a half hour early to wait in a long receiving line to demonstrate their support for Burke, who already has more than $12 million in the three campaign funds he controls.

An organizer confirmed more than 1,000 people showed up for the $150-per-ticket affair, their biggest crowd in 10 years — taking in more money at the door than at any previous Burke fundraiser.

Among the guests undeterred by the federal investigation was Jennie Rae McGuire, who used to operate one of the city’s largest court reporting services.

People wait in line to enter Ald. Ed Burke’s (14th) annual holiday fundraiser at the Sheraton Grand Chicago, Tuesday evening, Dec. 4, 2018. | Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times

“I wouldn’t have considered missing it,” said McGuire. “Ald. Burke is one of the finest, smartest, kindest, hard-working and most decent people that I have ever known.”

McGuire said last week’s FBI raid on Burke’s offices was “very sad.”

“I think it was politically motivated,” she said.

Later, as she was leaving, McGuire noted the event was “incredibly well attended.”

“That’s what loyalty will do for you,” she said.

Retired Cook County Judge William Gomolinski explained the big turnout.

“You wouldn’t walk away from your friend, and nobody’s walking away from him,” Gomolinski said.

Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th) was among a City Council throng on hand that also included Aldermen Margaret Laurino (39th), Patrick O’Connor (40th), David Moore (17th), Nick Sposato (38th) Roderick Sawyer (6th) and Ray Lopez (15th).

“I don’t think this will stop anyone from coming. If anything, just the opposite,” Reboyras said, later calling it the biggest turnout he’d seen in 16 years of attending the fundraiser.

“We have a lot of respect for that gentleman. He’s been around for 50 years,” Reboyras said.

Burke entered through one of the hotel’s side entrances, avoiding a gaggle of reporters waiting outside, eventually taking the ballroom stage with his family before the crowd of supporters.

He made no mention of the looming investigation during a brief talk, instead saluting fallen former President George H.W. Bush and wishing his supporters a safe holiday.

Burke then sipped a club soda and lime as he mingled and took photos with attendees. He declined to comment to a Chicago Sun-Times reporter on the federal probe or the sizable turnout for his party.

Ald. Ed Burke (14th) attends his annual holiday fundraiser at the Sheraton Grand Chicago, Tuesday evening, Dec. 4, 2018. | Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times

Former 11th Ward Ald. James Balcer said he’s known Burke since his days as a veterans advocate before coming to City Hall.

“This guy is a stand-up guy. He’s a friend,” said Balcer as he left with former Ald. John Pope (10th).

Others such as Ald. Joe Moore (49th), Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) and former 38th Ward alderman and current Circuit Judge Tom Allen were more shy about talking and politely waved off reporters.

“Not about this,” Burnett said.

“Friends since high school,” said former Cook County Assessor James Houlihan as he fled for the escalator.

Chicago Park District Board President Jesse Ruiz said he was only there because a friend gave him a ticket, denying that his presence was any show of support for Burke.

“I’m here to talk to my friend,” Ruiz said.

Jack Hartman, former executive director of the Illinois Tollway, said he knows Burke best through their work with the Irish Fellowship Club.

“He’s always been nice to me and a class act,” Hartman said.

Also seen were former city corporation counsel Mara Georges, Circuit Judge Daniel Kubasiak, former Ald. Terry Gabinski (32nd), Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Michael Cabonargi, former Illinois Attorney General Neil Hartigan and lobbyist Al Ronan.

Some of the best observations came from a would-be judge, who said the annual event drew the usual crowd.

“They’re all there: the wannabes, the has-beens, the they-ares and the powers that be. No one stayed away. Loyalty trumps integrity in this town every time,” he said.