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Powerful alderman spent $45,499 in taxpayer money to build fence behind his home

Ald. Ed Burke's house in his ward is right by the El and is located at the intersection of S. Harding and 51st street. Photo by Al Podgorski | For the Sun-Times

For years, the single railroad track south of Curie Metro High School on the Southwest Side had been a hangout for teens and a cut-through for commuters walking to and from the L’s Orange Line station at Pulaski.

Then, a year ago, City Hall put up a wrought-iron fence south of the track, eliminating the shortcut.

That also stopped teens from hanging out by the neighborhood’s newest and biggest house — built and occupied by one of the city’s most powerful politicians, Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th).

City taxpayers picked up the tab for the new wrought-iron fence and a sidewalk that directs pedestrians away from the house.

It was Burke’s call to put in the fence and sidewalk.

He used his “aldermanic menu,” a perk given to members of the Chicago City Council. They’re given money they can spend on whatever public works projects they want in their wards.

Burke — who didn’t respond to requests for comment for this story — wanted the fence and sidewalk, each longer than a football field.

“I am asking that . . . funds be allocated to the Department of Transportation for the purpose of installing a sidewalk along with a wrought-iron fence from Harding to Pulaski on West 51st Street,” Burke said in an April 17, 2008, letter to city officials. “The reason for the installation of the sidewalk and wrought-iron fence is to prevent the students from Curie High School using this rail-road grade cross as a shortcut.” Burke estimated the work would cost taxpayers $25,000.

Ald. Ed Burke’s house in his ward is right by the “L” at the intersection of S. Harding and 51st street. He has two flags on a flagpole at the front of it. Photo by Al Podgorski/Sun-Times

He was a bit off. By the time it was completed earlier this year, the bill came to $45,499, city records show — $14,079 for the sidewalk, $31,420 for the wrought-iron fence.

That fence connects to the fence Burke already had around his $900,000 home. Before, people could walk right alongside his property.

They can’t anymore.

From Burke’s property, the fence runs west between the railroad track and a strip mall for a little less than a block, to Pulaski.

The fence has done some good, neighbors say. They credit it with helping cut down on crime and fights and discouraging gang members from hanging around.

Ald. Ed Burke’s house sits near the L’s Orange Line station at Pulaski. Photo by Al Podgorski | For the Sun-Times

“It’s better than not having it,” says one neighbor.

But he also says: “It’s really for Curie kids to stay off the tracks. Without that fence, they would go right past that house” — pointing to Burke’s house.

The alderman’s home sits just south of the single track that, on average, is used by nine trains a day, most of them passing at under 10 mph, state records show.

Another neighbor says it’s obvious why the fence went up. And it’s not to keep kids from crossing the track, she says.

“I think it’s to keep that house safe,” she says, pointing to Burke’s home. “If it was for the trains, they would have put it up a long time ago.”

Burke had the fence put up three years after his family moved into the house on the far southwest edge of his ward in 2005.

Work on the fence began late last year. It was finished in April, city records show.

Already, it’s rusting.

Contributing: Art Golab