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Lightfoot purges herself of $500 contribution from developer tied to Burke

Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot is interviewed by reporter Fran Spielman Friday, March 5, 2019. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot is interviewed by reporter Fran Spielman Friday, March 5, 2019. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot is purging herself of a $500 campaign contribution from a now-indicted developer with ties to Ald. Edward Burke (14th) — by donating the money to a political reform group.

Lake Forest businessman Charles Cui faces federal bribery charges for hiring Burke to handle property tax appeals in exchange for the now-deposed Finance Committee chairman’s help with a sign for a new Binny’s Beverage Depot that was part of the development Cui was building in Portage Park.

Cui had no apparent ties to Burke when he attended a campaign fundraiser for Lightfoot in mid-March and made a $500 donation.

But now that Cui has been charged, Lightfoot wants nothing to do with Cui’s money. She’s donating the $500 to Reform for Illinois, a group whose purpose is rooting out government corruption.

For Lightfoot, purging herself of Cui’s tainted money is a no-brainer. She owes her meteoric rise to the events of Jan. 3.

That’s when 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 to Toni Preckwinkle.

Lightfoot was stuck in the single-digits in public opinion polls before the Nov. 29 raid by federal investigators who covered the glass doors to Burke’s ward and City Hall offices with brown butcher paper.

After that and the Jan. 3 charges against Burke, Lightfoot became the designated change agent in a change election.

In all, Cui made $15,400 in campaign contributions in recent years, $12,350 of it to soon-to-be-ousted Ald. John Arena (45th), whose Northwest Side ward includes the Portage Park project.

Cui’s law firm, specializing in immigration cases, contributed another $5,000 to Arena.

Unlike Burke, Arena was not identified in Friday’s indictment and he has not been charged with wrongdoing.

The federal indictment accuses Cui of going around Arena to get to Burke when City Hall rejected the developer’s request to re-use a pole sign for the Binny’s, potentially costing Cui $750,000.

In an email to his property tax appeals lawyer, Cui candidly explained why he needed to hire Burke.

“I have TIF deal going with the City, and he is the Chairman of Finance Committee. He handled [sic] his tax appeal business card to me, and I need his favor for my tif money. In addition, I need his help for my zoning etc for my project. He is a powerful broker in City Hall, and I need him now,” Cui wrote, in an email that formed the guts of the indictment against him.

Lightfoot’s decision to donate Cui’s $500 to Reform for Illinois was first reported by the Daily Line.