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4 candidates looking over shoulders after Burke scandal erupts

Ed Burke

Ald. Ed Burke, 75, walks into the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, Thursday. | Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times

Those who live by the Burke will die by the Burke.

The uber-powerful Chicago Ald. Ed Burke has been charged with attempted extortion. In a 37-page criminal complaint, federal prosecutors allege that Burke used his position as chair of the Chicago City Council’s Finance Committee to snare business for his tax appeals law firm.

OPINION

He may be innocent, but Burke is going down, one way or the other. He has already resigned from his Finance Committee perch. He is likely to lose his aldermanic re-election campaign, if he doesn’t resign first.

When he goes down, he’ll take somebody with him.

For starters, the Burke scandal could be enough to knock some mayoral aspirants out of their front-runner status.  It could be enough to bury them.

It’s an irresistible saga that will overshadow and color the 2019 mayor’s race, sucking up precious media coverage, while putting a glaring spotlight on endemic City Hall corruption.

Four prominent mayoral candidates have direct, up-close-and-personal ties to Burke, and have long enjoyed Burke’s largess.

Burke granted his once-treasured endorsement to Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza when she first ran for an Illinois House district adjacent to Burke’s Southwest Side ward. Mendoza has called Burke a mentor.

Mendoza was married at Burke’s lavish compound, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. Burke’s wife, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, presided over the civil ceremony.

After the FBI raided Burke’s offices last November, Mendoza was forced to dump $10,326 in campaign donations from Burke. She donated the cash to the families of three Chicago police officers who were killed in the line of duty.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has long worked with Burke, the clout-heavy alderman and Democratic committeeman — for the two decades she served as 4th Ward alderman and now, as Cook County Democratic Party chair.

Last year, Burke threw a fund-raiser at his home for Preckwinkle’s county board re-election campaign. She later disavowed Burke’s generosity, donating the $12,800 in donations from him to charity.

One charge in the criminal complaint is that Burke strong-armed the owners of a fast-food restaurant chain into giving Preckwinkle a $10,000 campaign contribution. She says she returned it.

Then there’s Gery Chico, former president of the Chicago Board of Education. Thirty years ago, Gery Chico was a young researcher for Burke’s Finance Committee. Chico has called him “a friend and supporter for decades.”

Burke endorsed Chico in his 2011 mayoral run and recently declared that, in this race, “there’s probably nobody more qualified than [Chico].”

Don’t forget Bill Daley, of Chicago’s leading political family dynasty, which has wielded power in City Hall even longer than Burke.

Burke “has made at least $30,000 in contributions to Daley family political funds over the years,” the Chicago Tribune reported.

Now they’re all running away, demanding Burke’s resignation, calling for his electoral defeat.

They can’t run fast enough.

The extortion charge is just the beginning. A federal grand jury will be convened. A formal indictment will come. Perhaps, a guilty plea. The government was recording Burke’s cell phone conversations for a year, according to the complaint.

Perhaps, much longer.

Burke knows many things. For 50 years, Burke and his Finance Committee have interacted with thousands of government staffers, corporations, small business owners and ordinary citizens.

Burke’s long City Council run has earned him a vast repertoire of the government’s machinery, skeletons and secrets.

At 75, Burke might want to avoid doing serious jail time.

He might want to share what he knows.

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