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Ed and Anne Burke return to the Dirksen Federal Building to hear jurors’ verdict in his corruption trial on Thursday.

Ed and Anne Burke return to the Dirksen Federal Building to hear jurors’ verdict in his corruption trial on Thursday.

Pat Nabong

Current, former City Council colleagues call Burke conviction "sad" and "a tragedy"

Nobody who has ever served with Ed Burke is dancing on the political grave of the longest-serving member in the history of the Chicago City Council.

That’s because there is genuine affection, admiration and respect for the former Finance Committee chairman who mentored far more colleagues than he bullied during his record 54-year reign.

Fellow alderpersons not only feared Ed Burke. They liked him, because he ingratiated himself to them. He was generous with his time and advice, his campaign war chest, and his vast knowledge and network of government contacts. When a colleague needed help with legislation, Ed Burke helped to draft it or invited that person to share in the limelight as his co-sponsor.

Analysis

He loaned Finance Committee staffers to colleagues or gave them money to hire additional workers. He used his $2 million-plus committee budget to ride to the rescue of colleagues in legal trouble and his massive campaign funds to help those in political trouble.

For all of those reasons and more, the reaction to Thursday’s guilty verdict — on all but one of the counts he faced — was muted to say the least.

There was more pity for Burke than anger at him for writing the most significant chapter yet in the City Council’s sordid history of political corruption.

‘It’s hard to walk away’

“It’s sad. … The whole thing is sad. … He’s given his life to public service. Ed has always felt he’s done the right things for the right reasons. The tapes … presented a different light,” said former Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), who thinks so highly of Burke that he showed up for two days of the trial to support his friend of 40 years.

Former Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) said he’s seen and heard Burke “blow up against colleagues” and reduce a city department head to tears. But Sawyer considers Burke a longtime family friend who “looked out for me” and “helped a thousand times more people than he may have intimidated.”

“He and my dad were good friends. They were buddies. They talked all the time,” said Sawyer, son of former alderperson-turned-Acting Mayor Eugene Sawyer.

“At the end of my dad’s life, he came to see my dad almost every day. He was at the hospital as much as we were.”

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) was Burke’s City Council seatmate after the now-convicted former alderperson was deposed as Finance chair following the infamous November 2018 raid on his City Hall suite. Former Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who owes her election to the Burke scandal, frequently accused Lopez of carrying the water for Burke’s legislative mischief, a charge Lopez vehemently denied.

Lopez said Burke’s “fingerprints are on so much of what is Chicago. To have this as the final act of a remarkable career is a tragedy” that Burke could have avoided if he had only known when to leave.

“This is a very addictive business. It’s hard to walk away — especially when you’re on top. That’s true of any profession, but doubly so in politics,” Lopez said.

Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) chats with then-Ald. Ed Burke (14th) during a 2021 Chicago City Council meeting.

Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) chats with then-Ald. Ed Burke (14th) during a 2021 Chicago City Council meeting.

Ashlee Rezin

Sawyer agreed “the trappings of power can be intoxicating,” particularly for a man like Burke, who reveled in being called, “Mr. Chairman,” being protected by bodyguards and squired around in a chauffeur-driven limousine or SUV.

“My dad told me, ‘If you decide to get in this game, do it and get out. Don’t make it your lifetime avocation to be the alderman.’ I learned from that and I chose to not do that,” said Sawyer, who ran for mayor and lost after 12 years in the City Council.

“Burke came up in a different era when the position was extremely powerful and extremely influential. It’s not that any longer. [But] it’s hard to let go if you’ve been there for 50-plus years. You’ve been there since your 20’s and, now, you’re approaching 80. This is your life.”

‘If he told you he was with you, he was with you’

Former Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) said the conviction on racketeering and extortion charges will forever be the comma after Burke’s name. It will sadly diminish an otherwise stellar career that reshaped the legislative landscape in Chicago.

The trailblazing ban on indoor smoking, mandatory carbon monoxide detectors and defibrillators and a ban on phosphates are just a few of Burke’s greatest hits.

“I don’t believe that there will be too many people, if any, who actually served with Ed Burke who will be doing a dance on his grave. He did a helluva lot of things and a helluva lot of them behind-the-scenes. He supported a lot of people you’d think he would not support. And none of that will be spoken. It’ll be, ‘Another bad Chicago politician goes to jail,’” Brookins said.

“Ed has been … just a straight-up and honest broker. If he told you he was with you, he was with you. If he told you something was gonna happen, it happened. You’re hard-pressed to find people like that nowadays who are in politics.”

If Burke’s colleagues were angry at anyone, it was at former Zoning Committee Chair Danny Solis (25th) who wore a wire and produced the infamous recordings of Burkethat sealed his fate.

The Burke captured on the Solis wire — suggesting a recalcitrant businessman “go f--- themselves” — comes off more like a mobster than the pinstriped, genteel Chicago charmer who dazzled colleagues with his wit, musical talents and encyclopedic knowledge of Chicago history.

“Danny is a snake and a snitch. He did something purely out of greed and self-interest…to save his own behind. That’s the part I don’t like. All you were trying to do is save your ass. I don’t respect that. Nobody should,” Sawyer said.

Former Chicago City Counci member Danny Solis outside the Dirksen Federal Building on Dec. 11 after appearing in court during Ed Burke’s corruption trial.

Former Chicago City Counci member Danny Solis outside the Dirksen Federal Building on Dec. 11 after appearing in court during Ed Burke’s corruption trial.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere

Former Ald. Joe Moore (49th) said “a lot of people” in the Council feel “indirectly betrayed” by Solis for “going after a man many respected and viewed as a friend to save himself and his pension” instead of “accepting his fate and acknowledging his own mistakes.”

“I don’t blame the federal government for putting pressure on Danny to uncover corruption. But he certainly will never be viewed as a Serpico. He only uncovered corruption when the federal government put the squeeze on him,” Moore said.

Brookins said present and former Council members are “more mad at Danny because of what he did in trying to bring everybody else down with him.”

“He kept coming back to Burke with stories from the FBI to tell him in an attempt to get Burke to say something incriminating. If this sophisticated businessman thought that Burke was shaking him down, then he should have called the FBI,” Brookins said.

‘We’ve all had conversations ... that we probably would regret’

Former Ald. “Proco” Joe Moreno (1st) and current Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th) joined Tunney in U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall’s courtroom on the dramatic day Solis came out of the shadows to testify after being summoned by Burke’s high-powered defense team.

Gardiner refused to comment on his support for Burke. Moreno could not be reached. Nor could Solis.

Tunney had known Burke for 20 years before Tunney was appointed to serve as Chicago’s first openly-gay alderperson.

Although Burke managed to survive politically by ringing doorbells and learning to speak fluent Spanish in what is now a majority-Hispanic 14th Ward, Tunney said his friend failed to make the political adjustment that mattered most.

“A lot of this is that the times change and a lot of these older politicians don’t change with the times. I’m not saying that kind of language and that kind of thing would ever be appropriate. But the idea of, you know, a committeeman getting jobs for people — now, how old is that?” Tunney said.

“You’ve got to keep abreast with staying on the right side of the law. And the rules change. You know that. What you could do in the ’80’s and ’90’s — you can’t do that stuff. … One bad move could be lethal to your career. What was it, 20,000 phone calls taped in five years of wearing a wire? We’ve all had conversations on the phone that we probably would regret.”

Ald. Ed Burke walks into the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in January 2019.

Ald. Ed Burke walks into the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in January 2019.

Ashlee Rezin

Lopez said he can only hope the judge “takes age into account” when sentencing Burke, who will turn 80 on Dec. 29.

“My heart goes out to Anne Burke and his family, who are going to have to live with the very real possibility of never seeing him again,” Lopez said.

Brookins said he is “optimistic” Burke will manage to delay sentencing long enough through myriad appeals to avoid “dying in prison.”

“There’s always hope that it won’t happen and he could be pardoned by the president, either one of ’em — whoever the next president might be,” Brookins said.

“I think they would commute his sentence, absolutely. I don’t think they would let him die in prison. A commutation would be in order. And if it’s [Burke’s former law client] Donald Trump, he doesn’t give a damn. He’d just pardon him.”

The only even mildly disparaging reaction to Burke’s conviction came from retired Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), who championed a host of Burke-targeted reforms while chairing the City Council’s Committee on Ethics and Government Oversight.

Smith has said she made it a point to avoid Burke after his “voice dropped and he told me something that he could only have known if he had read my divorce file” at their first and only private meeting.

“The jury decided and justice was served. That’s all I can say,” Smith told the Sun-Times.

“All we can hope is that this is the end of an era. Hopefully, the city will be better for not having this kind of corruption as the jury found. … Let’s hope that people learn the lesson and we don’t have another round of people in City Council who decide to be corrupt.”

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