If Ald. Edward Burke (14th) was working behind-the-scenes to interfere with O’Hare Airport contracts, former Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans had a responsibility to report those alleged pressure tactics the moment they happened, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Monday.
Four days after Evans lifted the veil on the Finance Committee chairman’s behind-the-scenes maneuverings at O’Hare, Emanuel essentially asked a simple question of the woman who was Chicago’s highest-paid city official before stepping down last summer: Where has she been?
“Every person, regardless of position and title, has an ethical and professional responsibility and legal responsibility if they see anything that they do not think follows the letter and the spirit of the law to report it. And if they don’t, they’re actually walking away from their responsibilities,” the mayor said.
The mayor noted that, with the City Council’s help, he has put in place whistleblower protections to encourage city employees to come forward.
Still, Evans remained silent about Burke’s alleged pressure tactics until after she left city government — and after federal investigators raided Burke’s ward and City Hall offices and returned to his Finance Committee office for a second time.
“If you were in a place and you saw things and felt things that were not legally correct or ethically correct, you had a responsibility to report them. And if you didn’t, you abdicated your responsibility,” Emanuel said Monday after an unrelated event at the police academy.
The mayor was asked whether he was at all troubled by Evans’ claim that Burke insisted that she communicate with him about official city business on his private email account.
“You got my reaction. You heard what I have to say,” the mayor said.
Evans could not be reached for comment on the mayor’s remarks.
The Sun-Times reached out to Evans last week after she sent out a tweet after reading the newspaper’s story about David Axelrod’s prediction that Burke would be indicted.
Her message over Twitter read: “The signs of his conflicts were an open secret. Burke attacked and put pressure on City staff regarding contracts and payments (presumably for his clients and business partners.) Hopefully, Burke will never do that again and other Council members will take note.”
When Evans was asked what she meant, she responded with a detailed memo citing five instances in which she claims Burke worked repeatedly behind the scenes to inappropriately pressure her and her staff on airport business.
• Burke personally intervened to make sure that the clout-heavy United Maintenance, which held janitorial contracts at O’Hare Airport, got paid promptly.
• Burke pushed to renew or extend a contract with Go Airport, which operates a shuttle service at O’Hare.
• Burke worked to help Clear Channel, the company that controls indoor advertising at O’Hare, when it was upset over a competitor’s actions at the airport.
• When dozens of leases for hangars and aviation support facilities were coming up for renewal, the City was obligated to offer them the same business terms. Those terms required City Council approval. However, Burke insisted that each lease be separately submitted to Council – which delayed and complicated the approvals.
• At a committee hearing on the leases, Burke continued to question Evans’ authority to sign them.
The mayor’s decision to turn the spotlight away from Burke and toward Evans is part of a pattern.
Emanuel privately blamed Burke for being the heavy hand behind the residency challenge that nearly knocked Emanuel off the 2011 ballot.
After the election that saw Burke support Gery Chico over Emanuel, 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.
He ended up retaining Burke, leaving the city’s $100 million-a-year worker’s compensation program in the Finance Committee and cutting the chairman’s police detail in half — from four active police officers to two retired ones.
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’re generally supportive of each other’s programs.
Even after the Nov. 29 raid on Burke’s ward and City Hall officers, Emanuel said it was too soon to demand that Burke step down as Finance chairman because no federal charges have been filed.
The mayor also refused to weigh in on a demand by progressive aldermen to yank the worker’s comp program out of the Finance Committee and transfer it to the city’s Law Department.
Cook County Democratic Party Chairman Toni Preckwinkle called Burke’s alleged maneuverings at O’Hare so, “profoundly troubling,” she vowed to strip him of his role as the party’s chairman of judicial slate making and demanded that he step down as finance chairman.