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Ed Burke

Former 14th Ward Ald. Ed Burke’s home in the West Elsdon neighborhood.

Mitchell Armentrout

In Ed Burke’s 14th Ward, big frustration with politicians persists. ‘They’re all kind of crooked, I guess’

Sophie’s Tavern has been open near the intersection of Archer Avenue and Pulaski Road in Chicago’s 14th Ward almost as long as Ed Burke was in office.

Over those roughly 40 years, the bar owner, Sophie herself, felt an unspoken pressure to donate to Burke’s numerous campaigns. But pointing to an unevenly paved sidewalk at the bar’s entrance that she previously asked the alderman’s office to address, she says she never got much out of it.

“If you’re in a business, they look different at you if you don’t support him,” Sophie said, declining to share her last name or how much she’s donated to Burke’s campaigns over the years. “They [are] just looking for money, that’s it — donation, donation, donation. If you don’t give them [a] donation, they don’t come and see you.”

Now, she’ll be watching her longtime former alderman’s corruption trial play out on the television screens that surround her oval-shaped bar — but she doesn’t have any hope the outcome will clean up Chicago politics.

“I’m not going to gain anything out of this. So, you know, court is so corrupt,” Sophie said. “[All aldermen] should go — all f— — not only him, they all should go” on trial.

Sophie was among a dozen Southwest Siders who shared their thoughts with WBEZ and the Sun-Times about Burke, who’s on trial this week on charges that he used his clout at City Hall, including his position as chairman of the powerful Finance Committee, to steer business to his law firm.

Burke built up his influence over 54 years in the 14th Ward, which includes parts of Brighton Park, Archer Heights and Chicago Lawn. The ward looks a lot different than it did when Burke took the mantle from his late father in 1969. Once a bastion for Polish and other mostly white immigrants, the working-class ward is now 88% Hispanic.

While the trial itself wasn’t top of mind for many of his former constituents, including some who didn’t even know they had a new alderman as of May of this year, some have fond memories of their longtime ward boss.

“He looked like he was a decent and good man,” said Teresa Galvan, who was speaking with a neighbor down the street from the Chicago Lawn library branch where she said she cast multiple ballots for Burke over the years. “The way he talks and things like that — like sometimes when you see the person you can tell his appearance, and the way he looks, that he’s a good person, that he’s doing something for the community.”

At an eyewear store down the street, an employee named Gerardo couldn’t recall Burke by name, but said he wasn’t surprised to learn another Chicago politician was in the crosshairs of federal prosecutors “because that will not be the first one.”

“Do you know that people, they’re moving out of Chicago, right? I think that’s one of the reasons why,” Gerardo, who didn’t want to share his last name, said.

Burke is part of a long line of allegedly corrupt council members. Three dozen former or current City Council members have been convicted of a crime in the past five decades.

Burke seems a logical next member of that ignominious group to Jordan Bettis, who walks by Burke’s gated, 5,600-square foot home on his way to work. The “weird compound,” as Bettis puts it, has a hulking presence at the dead-end corner of 51st Street and South Harding Avenue.

“I kind of feel like he’s the quintessential like … when you think of kind of a crooked Chicago alderman – I feel like Ed Burke is what you think of,” Bettis said. “I think it was probably the least surprising thing ever” that Burke is charged with corruption.

“I kind of feel like it’s typical for the Southwest Side, like him and [indicted former Illinois House Speaker Michael] Madigan… we’ve had people who have been around for a long time. And they’re all kind of crooked, I guess.”

Like Sophie and other residents, Bettis isn’t optimistic this one trial — or even Madigan’s trial next year — is “going to end corruption in Chicago,” but he thinks it could mean “a change-up in the people who are running this area.”

Burke gave up his seat earlier this year, after not filing to run for reelection. He was succeeded by Ald. Jeylu Guitierrez, a first-time elected official who was endorsed by Burke’s long-time rival, Democratic U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

“I’m sure it’s gonna be a new wave of people – maybe like Chuy’s people, or whoever, are gonna move in,” Bettis said, “and hopefully it’s for the good.”

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