Ald. Edward M. Burke wrote a letter in his official capacity that helped a client of his law firm win City Council approval to develop a blighted stretch of land near Midway Airport.
It’s the second time Burke has written such a letter so someone he’s done business with could get a zoning change from City Hall. After writing those letters, Burke abstained from voting on both cases to avoid any conflicts of interest.
In the most recent case, Burke wrote a letter July 18, 2007, endorsing a development project for Calvin Boender — who was indicted last month along with Ald. Isaac Carothers (29th) on bribery charges stemming from a different project.
Boender, who has been a client of Burke’s law firm for at least four years, hired Burke to seek property tax cuts on 14 properties — only one in the city of Chicago — since Aug. 15, 2005, records show. Seven of the cases were filed before Burke wrote a letter endorsing Boender’s plans to redevelop the corner of 43rd and Cicero in Burke’s 14th Ward.
And Burke has saved Boender money.
This year, Burke persuaded Cook County Assessor James Houlihan to lower property tax assessments on three of five properties Boender owns.
Boender also has made campaign contributions to Burke.
In addition, Boender hosted a fund-raiser for Burke’s wife, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, four months before Ald. Burke penned the letter supporting Boender’s project.
In May, federal authorities accused Boender of bribing Carothers to win zoning changes for a West Side housing development in Carothers’ 29th Ward.
Boender has pleaded not guilty.
Burke, chairman of the City Council’s powerful finance committee, has not been implicated in Boender’s bribery case. Burke’s press secretary and a representative in his law office declined to comment about Burke’s relationship with Boender, whose lawyers did not return messages.
Boender originally envisioned a 100-room hotel on the land north of Midway in 2004. Three years later, he switched gears and was seeking to build 138 homes and a restaurant, both of which required city planning and zoning approvals.
“I am in full support of this proposed project,” Burke wrote in the July 2007 letter to the city’s planning commissioner. “If you have any questions or require any additional information pertaining to this matter, please do not hesitate to contact me.”
City planning and zoning committees approved the project, sending it to the City Council. Burke abstained from the City Council vote, citing a relationship with somebody involved in the project. He did not disclose specifics.
As the project worked its way through City Hall, Boender was represented by zoning attorney James Banks, whose uncle, Ald. William Banks (36th), chairs the zoning committee. James Banks has represented Boender in four zoning cases, including the housing development in Carothers’ ward.
Boender never broke ground on the project in Burke’s ward.
While Burke has declined to discuss his relationship with Boender, his wife has moved to distance herself from the developer.
Attorney John Simon, chairman of Anne Burke’s campaign committee, said the justice has donated proceeds from the fund-raiser Boender held for her to a series of charities and non-profits. The event raised $58,250, including $30,000 from companies owned by Boender and a partner, Robert Finnegan; $2,500 from Finnegan and $5,000 from Boender’s wife, Maria.
Two years before Ald. Burke wrote a letter supporting Boender’s project, Burke wrote a similar endorsement letter for his business partner, Anthony DeGrazia, who needed city approval to build 200 homes on the site of a former chocolate warehouse in Burke’s ward.
“Please feel free to use my endorsement of this project as you see fit,” Burke wrote in a July 13, 2005, letter to DeGrazia and his development partner, former Ald. Ted Mazola.
At the time Burke wrote that letter, Burke and DeGrazia were owners of 51st Street Townhomes LLC, which got City Council approval for a $4.6 million development to build 13 townhomes and a three-story home for the Burkes.
Burke abstained from voting when the City Council gave Burke and DeGrazia permission to build the alderman’s new home. Burke also abstained from voting when the City Council approved the DeGrazia-Mazola development. But that project has fallen on hard times, with fewer than 20 homes built on the desolate property a few blocks east of Burke’s home.
Ald. Edward Burke removed himself from voting on two development deals for his associates. He did, however, write letters of support for each project.