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State rep says rival candidate ‘put up’ by Ed Burke — she calls that ‘offensive’

Alicia Elena Martinez interned in Ald. Ed Burke’s 14th Ward office and helped Burke’s re-election campaign last year.  And now she’s trying to win the state House seat held by state Rep. Aaron Ortiz, who ousted Burke’s brother two years ago. 

Primary challenger Alicia Elena Martinez and incumbent state Rep. Aaron Ortiz meet with the Sun-Times Editorial Board Monday.
Primary challenger Alicia Elena Martinez and incumbent state Rep. Aaron Ortiz meet with the Sun-Times Editorial Board Monday.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Alicia Elena Martinez interned in Ald. Ed Burke’s 14th Ward office and then worked for the Burke-controlled City Council Finance Committee in 2016.

She also helped Burke’s re-election campaign last year and shares petition circulators with the veteran alderman and 15th Ward Ald. Ray Lopez, a Burke ally.

And now she’s trying to win the state House seat held by state Rep. Aaron Ortiz, who ousted Burke’s brother two years ago. Martinez and Ortiz are also both running for 14th Ward Democratic committeeperson, a party post Burke has held for more than half a century.

Burke been charged with racketeering in a federal indictment, but he has not been convicted of any wrongdoing.

That didn’t stop Ortiz from saying his Democratic primary rival has “unfortunately been put up by a criminal.”

Martinez says she finds any suggestion that she’d been picked to run by Burke or others in his political organization to divide the Latino vote was “offensive.”

The two Southwest Side Democratic candidates appeared before the Sun-Times Editorial Board on Monday.

Despite the ties to Burke, Martinez says she’s her own person and is challenging the City Council’s longest serving alderman in the 14th Ward Committeeperson race because Burke is “disconnected” from the community.

“I’ve been in the organization since I was around 16 years old,” Martinez said. “I’ve grown a lot of relationships with a lot of people. And when people heard that I was running, they reached out to me and they asked ‘what can I do?’ yes I know them from the political office but I also know them outside … I’ll take any help I can get.”

Alicia Elena Martinez, Illinois House 1st district Democratic primary candidate. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times
Alicia Elena Martinez, Illinois House Democratic primary candidate.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times

And Martinez counters that Ortiz is part of the Democratic machine, portraying him as a foot soldier in House Speaker Mike Madigan’s army.

Ortiz “went from one political machine to another,” Martinez said, referring to Ortiz being represented by longtime Madigan attorney Michael Kasper in his challenge to Martinez’s petitions, taking an in-kind, $125 contribution from Madigan’s political fund for printing and his “silence” on an email from Madigan confidante Mike McClain mentioning ghost payrolling and a “rape in Champaign.”

Ortiz batted away the connection.

“I wish I could say that she decided to just [run for office] on her own, but unfortunately she’s been put up by a criminal — Ed Burke,” Ortiz said. “Burke represents pretty much a criminal organization … I think it’s a shame that we have people that are still willing to partake in politics with individuals, and knowing that, you know, I read through some of the things that have Burke is going on right now and on that there’s tapes.”

Ortiz beat Burke’s brother, former state Rep. Dan Burke, in 2018.

State Rep. Aaron Ortiz.
State Rep. Aaron Ortiz.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Ald. Ed Burke was charged with racketeering in a sweeping, 59-page indictment last May. That indictment followed a 37-page criminal complaint that charged the powerhouse alderman with attempted extortion last January.

Perhaps not surprisingly, fighting corruption has surfaced as a campaign issue in the race.

Martinez said if elected the first thing she’d do is work to pass ethics reform, mandating that no elected official can hold two compensated offices and restricting legislators who leave from registering as lobbyists for five years following their exit from any body of government.

Ortiz said Martinez pushing ethics reform was “ironic.” If reelected, the former teacher says he’ll continue to work to pass legislation that helps some of the 37 schools in the district which is part of an overarching movement he sees himself in, he says.

“I see myself as someone who’s grown from the movement that helped elect Harold Washington, and I see my opponent, as part of a racist organization that fought against Harold Washington,” Ortiz said. “So it’s two different cloths that we have here.”