Ald. Burke should have taken his own advice. But he didn’t.
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.wgnradio.com/category/wgnplus/thechicagoway.
Ald. Edward Burke’s days of picking judges and running his own vast intelligence network are coming to an end.