Lightfoot: Burke scrutiny ‘really waking people up’
The federal criminal investigation of powerful Chicago Ald. Ed Burke is like a meteor that has slammed into the 2019 mayoral campaign, says candidate Lori Lightfoot.
And the aftershock from that Burke meteor — a giant, pink, pinstriped meteor with the feds trailing behind it — threatens those old-school, goalong-get-along Democratic machine candidacies of those closest to Burke:
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza, lawyer Gery Chico and perhaps Bill Daley.
“I think this Burke moment has really been a wake-up call for people,” Lightfoot told me in an interview on my WGN-Plus podcast, “The Chicago Way.”
“Strangers are stopping me on the street, telling me to keep making the case,” said Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor. “This meteor that hit is really waking people up, and we’re going to keep riding that lane.”
The federal investigation of Burke, the extortion charge against him and the political dominoes that have subsequently fallen have refocused everything political in Chicago.
It’s all bad news for Preckwinkle, who has all but shot her big political feet off, first by taking Burke’s campaign money (that she since says she’s returned), then by trying to avoid reporters’ questions about that cushy $100,000 county job Burke’s son landed under her administration.
Former Burke aide Chico owes much to Burke, but he won’t throw the old man under the bus.
Not so with Burke protege Mendoza — the preferred mayoral candidate of outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s minions — who is running away from Burke as fast as she can. Burke? Who?
And Daley, though no fan of Burke’s, comes from the same Chicago political firmament where political muscle and government connections have made fortunes for the pink princes of the city.
All of it — the muscle and the oily clout and connections — are front and center now.
Preckwinkle has been hurt by her connection to Burke, but so has Mendoza. In a video now circulating, Mendoza is introduced by Burke as a candidate for city clerk in December 2010.
“The lady of the hour!” announces Burke. “The next city clerk of Chicago, Susana Mendoza!”
They give each other big hugs. “Ald. Burke,” says Mendoza, “you are a true champion of mine. He is really, primarily the reason I’m standing here!”
Of course he is, Susana. When Emanuel dropped out of the race for mayor, the insiders — Preckwinkle, Chico, Mendoza, Daley — were doing just fine.
Candidates like Lightfoot and former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas had set up their campaigns to run against Emanuel.
Without him, the campaign became exactly what a broken Chicago didn’t need — a popularity contest of recognizable clout-heavy personalities and who got their names in the news.
But the charge against Burke — with more possible — has refocused the mayoral campaign.
Lightfoot says that Chicago has been forced to consider the obvious — the corrupt political culture, which has relied upon the government hammer to make fortunes at the public’s expense.
Lightfoot agrees with me that candidates who entered the race after Emanuel decided not to run shouldn’t be considered.
“Anybody who got into the race after Rahm Emanuel bowed out, in my view, is automatically disqualified,” Lightfoot said on “The Chicago Way.” “Those people who only got in after Goliath (Rahm) was slain are just not credible to me.”
Burke is alleged to have used his leverage at City Hall to shake down a company that owns Burger King restaurants. A January 2018 Preckwinkle fundraiser at Burke’s home that was attended by Chico ties many of these players together.
Preckwinkle has said she returned the $116,000 raised at the event and insists she has done nothing illegal or wrong.
“I won’t have my name dragged through the mud over the alleged criminal conduct of Susana Mendoza’s mentor, Gery Chico’s best friend and Bill Daley’s longtime political ally,” she said.
That’s nice, Toni.
It’s also ridiculous.
“The lie keeps taking different forms,” Lightfoot said of Preckwinkle. “But again, if you’re a leader … when you mess up, you ’fess up and then you clean up, all right. ’Fess up. Tell us about what the real relationship, tell us about the quid pro quo Ed Burke got and solicited from you in return for now what we know is $116,000.”
What I want to know more about is what Preckwinkle refuses to discuss: that Tribune story by Gregory Pratt about the $100,000 Cook County job that Burke’s son got under Preckwinkle’s administration.
“He gets this very nice job with benefits, ostensibly something that’s important, which is homeland security, an important job for which he’s not qualified, and then apparently, he can’t be bothered to show up and do the work,” Lightfoot said. “And then quits when he gets questioned. I mean, come on now!”
On Mendoza, Lightfoot said:
“In that video, she says, ‘I would not be standing here today without Ed Burke.’ And now she doesn’t really know him? If you’re friends, you’re friends, our friends make mistakes. But be honest about it.
“What I’m concerned about with Susana is that she has so many Rahm people around her,” Lightfoot said. “Rahm’s media advisers, his political strategists. Is she (Mendoza) the Trojan horse?”
Emanuel’s political crew has flocked to Mendoza, and Preckwinkle is damaged from many self-inflicted political wounds.
Pay attention, Chicago. The most important mayoral election in decades is less than 45 days away.
Listen to “The Chicago Way” podcast, with John Kass and Jeff Carlin, at www.wgnradio.com/category/wgnplus/thechicagoway.
If you’re a leader, said Chicago mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot, “when you mess up, you ’fess up and then you clean up.”