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Ald. Burke Giving Up Powerful Committee Post, Emanuel Says

Chicago Ald. Edward Burke will resign from his powerful position as chairman of the City Council Finance Committee after being charged with attempted extortion, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Friday morning.

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Ed Burke

Ald. Ed Burke, 14th Ward, at a Chicago City Council meeting on June 27, 2018.

Sebastian Hidalgo

Updated 4:15 p.m.

Chicago Ald. Edward Burke will resign from his longtime position as chairman of the City Council Finance Committee after being charged with attempted extortion, though he’s still running for re-election in February.

Burke’s case could also prompt long called-for ethics reforms at City Council.

Emanuel released a statement Friday morning saying he had spoken to Burke (14th Ward), who agreed to step down.

The mayor said in an emailed statement. “Because of his affection for the city, deep respect for the institution of City Council and the needs of his constituents, Alderman Burke took the appropriate step to put the interests of the city above all else.”

Emanuel said the finance committee vice chairman, Ald. Patrick O’Connor (40th Ward), will now serve as chairman. O’Connor, the second longest serving alderman on the City Council, is currently the chairman of the City Council’s Workforce Committee. He also faces a tough re-election in his North Side Ward.

Meanwhile, Burke announced on social media Friday afternoon that he intends to continue his stint as Chicago’s longest-serving alderman by running for re-election next month, despite the attempted extortion charge against him.

“I want you, my friends and supporters, to know that I fully intend to seek re-election,” Burke says in the video, standing in an office and framed by American and Chicago flags in the background. “And I am hopeful that you and my many friends, uh, will continue to do the work you’ve already been doing.”

There are already signs of fallout from Burke’s criminal charge at City Hall.

A City Hall source told WBEZ Friday morning that Emanuel has also discussed removing the massive workers comp budget Burke controls as Finance Committee chair. For years, Burke has blocked efforts from reformers on the council who’ve tried to make the program more transparent and subject to city audit, and the program has come under scrutiny

The mayor also plans to introduce a new package of ethics reforms to the City Council “in the very near future,” the source said.

The reforms are being drafted in consultation with the city Inspector General’s Office and will consider “best practices from around the country,” the source said.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward), chairman of the council’s Progressive Caucus, had laid the groundwork to remove the workers compensation program from Burke. He’s been calling for reforms for years and finds the mayor’s announcement “hypocritical.”

“There needs to be a public hearing as we demanded a long time ago,” Waguespack said via text. “Not the mayor’s office with a little bit of consultation deciding where it goes.”

Federal prosecutors on Thursday filed a corruption case against Burke, just weeks after FBI agents dramatically raided his offices at City Hall and on the city’s Southwest Side.

Less than two months before February’s city election, Burke faces a single count of attempted extortion.

The government alleges Burke crossed the blurred lines between his public seat and his private law firm, Klafter & Burke. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago accuses Burke of trying to force the owners of a fast-food outlet in his Southwest Side ward -- who needed his permission to remodel the restaurant -- to hire Burke’s firm to do tax work for their chain.

According to court records, Burke “used his position as alderman … in order to corruptly solicit unlawful personal financial advantage” in the form of fees that his private firm would have reaped.

WBEZ has confirmed that Burke is accused of trying to pressure the owners of a Burger King in his ward to hire his law firm to do property tax appeals work for more than a hundred franchise locations. When they didn’t, prosecutors say Burke abused his aldermanic power to hold up their remodelling project.

During a brief court hearing Thursday, Burke did not enter a plea. Prosecutors said Burke faces up to 20 years in prison if found guilty. His next court date is set Jan. 18.

“I’ve done nothing wrong,” Burke said outside his home Thursday night. He said, “I’m not guilty of anything” and “I look forward to trying this case in court.”

Burke has been chairman of the powerful Finance Committee for decades. At its helm, he oversees a multi-million dollar budget and has huge influence in how the city raises and spends money.

Burke, 75, has been alderman for 49 years and Cook County Democratic Party committeeman for 50 years. The former Chicago police officer inherited the City Council seat from his father.

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