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Emanuel says it’s too soon to ask for Ald. Burke to step down amid investigation

Ed Burke, Rahm Emanuel

Mayor Rahm Emanuel confers with Ald. Ed Burke at a 2017 City Council meeting. | Sun-Times file photo

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Friday it was “too quick” to ask Ald. Ed Burke (14th) to step down as alderman or even as the chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee, a day after federal agents raided Burke’s City Hall and ward offices.

At a news conference announcing that the  San Francisco tech giant Salesforce is bringing 1,000 jobs to Chicago, Emanuel fielded questions on the City Council’s longest serving alderman being under federal scrutiny.

“We live in a country of laws,” Emanuel said. “They haven’t even charged him, and so all I would say is the decisions about what happens in the 14th Ward are to the voters of the 14th Ward.”

“It’s not even 24 hours, it’s too quick to even jump to” removing Burke from either of his posts, Emanuel said.

Emanuel said he didn’t know agents were coming to raid Burke’s offices and he wasn’t going to “hypothesize about what it could or could not be.”

Federal agents showed up around 7:30 a.m., unannounced at Burke’s City Hall office and spent hours behind papered over windows and doors — around 1:40 p.m. some left with one cardboard file box, a computer and two computer monitors.


A source told the Sun-Times the raids were in response to new allegations and not prompted by any past controversies that have swirled around Burke. That means, for now, the investigation isn’t focused on Burke’s property-tax-appeal work for President Donald Trump, or Burke’s oversight of a city workers’ compensation fund, among other matters.

Emanuel said that he wouldn’t engage in “guess work,” choosing instead to focus on closing out his tenure as mayor.

“Here’s how I look at this: you have 1,000 questions, I have 2,000,” Emanuel said. “What we both don’t have is any answers and that’s all I can say about it and it’s obviously significant . . . ”

Six years ago, Emanuel rocked the boat with a pre-election threat to reorganize the City Council and strip Burke of his police bodyguards and, possibly, the Finance Committee chairmanship that’s the primary source of his power.

He ended up retaining Burke, cutting his police detail in half, eliminating three committees and reducing committee spending by 20 percent.

Since then, the two political powerhouses have developed a working relationship not unlike the one that Burke had with former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

They don’t necessarily trust one another. But they don’t mess with each another, either. In fact, they’re generally supportive of each other’s programs.

Last year, Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) condemned as a “disgrace” Burke’s decision to file yet another lawsuit aimed at winning property tax refunds for the hotel and vacant retail space in the riverfront tower that bears Trump’s name.

Emanuel pointedly refused to join Pawar in condemning Burke.

That’s even though Burke’s sixth lawsuit sought to deprive the city and its public schools of millions of dollars in sorely needed revenue and put that money into the pockets of, as Pawar put it, a “racist and a bigot and a demagogue” who has “demonized” Chicago and its immigrant population.

“The point is not about Burke. The point is where is the city as it relates to the president. And I couldn’t have been clearer,” Emanuel said then.

During the 1990s, the Chicago Sun-Times ran a series of stories detailing the alleged conflicts between Burke’s position as Finance Committee chairman and his private role as a lawyer.

The newspaper disclosed how Burke used a rare parliamentary maneuver to change the record of four past City Council votes involving his airlines clients dating back as far as seven years.

After that controversy, there were demands that Burke relinquish his Finance Committee chairmanship and that then-Mayor Richard M. Daley force the issue.

Daley took a pass, just as Emanuel did in 2011.

Both men apparently decided that it was better to take advantage of Burke’s encyclopedic knowledge of Chicago history, city government and where the political bodies are buried at City Hall than it was to take him on.

As the saying goes, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

Contributing: Jon Seidel and Mark Brown