Cook County Democratic Chairman Toni Preckwinkle said Friday she would move to strip Ald. Edward Burke (14th) of his role as chairman of judicial slate making in the wake of what she called “profoundly troubling” allegations about Burke’s political interference at O’Hare Airport.
After reading former Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans’ bill of particulars against Burke and hearing about the second raid in two weeks on Burke’s City Hall office, Preckwinkle also demanded that Burke step down as chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee.
“The fact that the FBI has chosen to get involved, basically in the middle of his election race says that there are very serious allegations that are under investigation,” said Preckwinkle, the county board president now running for mayor.
“And the report in the Sun-Times this morning . . . about his alleged interference in the Department of Aviation are profoundly troubling.”
It’s unclear whether Evans’ allegations are related to the unprecedented federal raid last month on Burke’s City Hall and ward offices and a second raid on his City Hall office late Thursday.
In a memo to the Chicago Sun-Times in response the newspaper’s inquiries, Evans outlined five instances in which 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.
After reading about the behind-the-scenes maneuverings that go a long way towards explaining Burke’s contentious public relationship with Evans, Preckwinkle unloaded on Chicago’s most powerful and longest-serving aldermen.
Never mind that Burke held a fundraiser at his home for Preckwinkle’s re-election campaign for county board president.
“I don’t see any reason why a member of the City Council should be so intimately involved in the operations of one of the departments. Especially since it seems to have been on behalf of someone who was a friend of his and a vendor of the city,” Preckwinkle said.
Asked whether she would move to dump Burke as head of judicial slatemaking for the Democratic Party, Preckwinkle replied, “Yes.”
Preckwinkle was asked if she’s concerned that Burke is horse trading judgeships.
“It’s the appearance of impropriety that’s inappropriate,” she said, without elaborating.
Burke could not be reached for comment.
Preckwinkle was asked whether she was so offended by Burke’s actions, she would now return the money she raised at Burke’s house.
“No. I don’t think I’ll give the money back. But what I will do is say I can’t support him to continue in the role as Finance chair,” she said.
Why not return the money? Isn’t it tainted?
“I’m grateful for the contributions that I’ve received. It’s unclear whether or not he will be charged and found guilty. If he is, I’ll return the money,” she told the Sun-Times.
Preckwinkle also reiterated her support for the move this week by progressive aldermen to strip Burke of his control over the city’s $100 million-a-year worker’s compensation program.
The program was walled off from auditing scrutiny by Inspector General Joe Ferguson, even after Ferguson was empowered to investigate the City Council.
In county government, worker’s comp cases are handled by a division of the state’s attorney’s office, with regular reports to a committee of the County Board.
That’s why Preckwinkle is counting on saving tens of millions of dollars by shifting the city’s program from the Finance Committee to the Law Department.
“In the county, we have 20,000 employees and we spend $33 million on workmen’s comp . . . We have about 1 1/2 times as many people on the city payroll. But we spend five times as much on workman’s comp,” she said.