Ald. Burke should have taken his own ad­vice. But he didn’t.

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - NEWS - [email protected]­ Twit­ter @John_Kass

Ald. Ed­ward Burke, 14th, is a wake­goer, a prac­ti­tioner of a Chicago po­lit­i­cal tra­di­tion of Ir­ish Catholic Democrats, one that comes with its own strict rit­u­als:

You don’t cut in line. You keep to your­self. You wear a suit and shined shoes. You don’t act big. You don’t linger. You shake hands with the sur­vivors, of­fer sym­pa­thies, nod your head and go.

The leg­endary Mayor Richard J. Da­ley was an epic wake-goer. The old man un­der­stood that when a politi­cian comes to the wake, the fam­ily re­mem­bers. And they re­mem­ber it when they vote.

But the other day at City Hall, Burke sounded like he was at­tend­ing his own wake, as he paid trib­ute to out­go­ing and unloved Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“There’s a great deal to be said about leav­ing this cham­ber of your own vo­li­tion,” said Burke.

A funny line, yes, and the irony was just right. But every­one there could hear the two things he didn’t say, loud and clear:

The first was that he should have taken his own ad­vice and left on his own ac­cord years ago. And the sec­ond was that the feds are clos­ing in on him.

Burke has al­ready been charged with at­tempted ex­tor­tion in a fed­eral cor­rup­tion case out of City Hall, the one that has Burke taped in record­ings with fed­eral co­op­er­a­tor Ald. Danny So­lis, 25th, the al­der­man who loved vis­it­ing those mas­sage par­lors.

There were thou­sands of hours of recorded tele­phone calls of So­lis and Burke and oth­ers. What was said on those calls? I’m sure Burke is won­der­ing, too. We’ll find out.

It is of­ten the things that aren’t said that are the heart of the story. At least, I of­ten say it.

But pub­lic de­tails are also crit­i­cal, like the in­dict­ment made pub­lic Fri­day of real es­tate de­vel­oper Charles Cui, charged with bribery and other crimes.

Cui, of Lake For­est, al­legedly steered le­gal work to Burke in ex­change for help at City Hall to ob­tain $2 mil­lion in tax in­cre­ment fi­nanc­ing for a devel­op­ment at Six Cor­ners on the North­west Side.

Burke was ref­er­enced in the in­dict­ment only as Al­der­man A.

“He is a pow­er­ful bro­ker in City Hall, and I need him now,” Cui wrote in a 2017 email to his pre­vi­ous at­tor­ney about why he was hir­ing Burke.

Of course, he needed him. That’s how the crooked sys­tem works, it’s how Chicago works, or doesn’t.

A short time after Cui sent the email to his lawyer about Burke, he sent an­other to Burke, ask­ing for help, ac­cord­ing to the in­dict­ment.

“I may need your rep­re­sen­ta­tion for tax ap­peal,” wrote Cui. “… Please let me know if you have time to han­dle this mat­ter for me. Thank you!”

Fed­eral in­dict­ments are of­ten so very dry. And what you can’t pick up from an email in an in­dict­ment is the sound.

The sound of lips kiss­ing a politi­cian’s hand.

But if you close your eyes tight, and be very still, try very, very hard, you can hear it.

It is the sound that has made very wealthy men of Burke and of his friend and long­time po­lit­i­cal ally, Illi­nois House Speaker Michael J. Madi­gan, the boss of Illi­nois Democrats.

Both Madi­gan and Burke have le­gal prac­tices spe­cial­iz­ing in prop­erty tax re­duc­tion. So please, for­get the bag­pipes and drums. There is no need of a horn sec­tion.

The sound of our pol­i­tics is a pair of lips kiss­ing a po­lit­i­cal hand.

When tax­pay­ers need help deal­ing with govern­ment, they don’t go around throw­ing en­velopes of greasy bills at a politi­cian. That would be crude.

But if the politi­cian hap­pens to be a lawyer — you just hire the lawyer.

In Chicago, be­ing a lawyer/politi­cian is the sec­ond-old­est pro­fes­sion.

Burke was a mas­ter of his craft, a Chicago politi­cian of the first wa­ter. But his days of pick­ing judges and elect­ing tax asses­sors and run­ning his own vast in­tel­li­gence net­work are com­ing to an end.

He was charged with at­tempted ex­tor­tion in Jan­uary. Fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors were given a dead­line of May 3 to seek an in­dict­ment from a fed­eral grand jury. Pros­e­cu­tors sought the ex­ten­sion be­cause of the “com­plex na­ture” of the case.

But if the feds drop in­dict­ments on Burke in May, don’t ex­pect sub­tleties and com­plex­i­ties. They have all those thou­sands of hours of phone record­ings.

That’s the thing that amazed me about Burke. Boss Madi­gan doesn’t carry a cell­phone. Boss Madi­gan doesn’t call at­ten­tion to him­self.

But Burke loved to talk, and play the role, the grand al­der­man with the white hair and the dark suits, the body­guards.

And what Burke said on those FBI record­ings, about other politi­cians, and how he char­ac­ter­ized them and their con­stituen­cies, should be most fas­ci­nat­ing.

The po­lit­i­cal fall­out from tran­scripts in an in­dict­ment could leave Burke fur­ther iso­lated, forc­ing those al­lies who re­main to run for cover.

When I be­gan cov­er­ing pol­i­tics in Chicago, sev­eral al­der­men and their wiseguy friends were recorded by the FBI at Coun­sel­lors Row, the Greek diner across from City Hall.

“Re­mem­ber when the FBI had a bug hid­den at a ta­ble there?” a for­mer long­time in­ves­ti­ga­tor asked me. “Racial and eth­nic slurs. Com­ments on women. If the ‘G’ re­leases the (Burke) tran­scripts, it won’t be pretty.”

I re­mem­ber Coun­sel­lors Row. It wasn’t pretty. And as far as Burke is con­cerned th­ese days, that for­mer in­ves­ti­ga­tor isn’t alone in his think­ing. I’m hear­ing the same thing from oth­ers. And I’m sure Burke is hear­ing it too.

He should have taken his own ad­vice. But he didn’t. They never do.

Lis­ten to “The Chicago Way” pod­cast with John Kass and Jeff Car­lin at www.wgn­ra­­e­gory/wgn­plus/thechicago­way.


Ald. Ed­ward Burke’s days of pick­ing judges and run­ning his own vast in­tel­li­gence net­work are com­ing to an end.

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