Normally it wouldn’t be strange for Chicagoans to get a campaign message from a Democratic Party boss less than two weeks before Election Day, urging them to reject a Republican president’s agenda.
But things get more complicated when that party boss is powerful Chicago Ald. Ed Burke and the president is Donald Trump.
WBEZ has learned that some residents of Burke’s 14th Ward, on the Southwest Side, have apparently been getting text messages this week from Burke’s Democratic ward organization reminding them to “vote Democratic” and “defeat Trump.”
Burke is not only an alderman and Cook County Democratic Party boss. He’s also a clouted real estate attorney whom Donald Trump hired to get a tax break on his downtown Chicago hotel. The revelation sent political shockwaves through his mostly Hispanic ward, whose residents spoke out against Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric about immigration and immigrants.
Under pressure, Burke ultimately dropped Trump as a client in May, a few months after his brother Dan Burke (D-Chicago) lost his state representative seat to a 26-year-old high school college counselor, Aaron Ortiz. By that point, the alderman had reportedly been representing Trump for 12 years, and won him more than $14 million in property tax cuts, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Now, Burke’s text message campaign is the latest effort by the old-school ward boss to distance himself from Trump before the alderman heads into a tough re-election fight in February.
“Alderman Ed Burke says: ‘Say No to Trump by Voting against Rauner on Nov. 6th,’” reads a graphic texted to residents, urging them to vote out Illinois Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. The words hover around a photo of Burke standing alongside two of Chicago’s most prominent Latino Democrats, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez and Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.
Burke’s office did not respond to several requests to comment for this story on Friday.
February’s election could be a test of the growing power of progressive Latinos in Chicago politics. Burke would be one of the most formidable targets in the city’s Democratic establishment.
Burke has been in office since 1969. As finance committee chair, he’s the gatekeeper of city tax dollars. As a well-connected attorney, he’s benefited from a lengthy roster of legal clients that do business with the city.
When asked this week how he liked his chances for re-election in 2019, he would only say: “I’m doing the best I can, and it’s up to the good voters of the 14th Ward.”
Indeed, even Burke’s opponents recognize he’s been working overtime to repair his image with predominantly Hispanic voters.
“He’s doing things he has never done before,” said Jamie Guzman, who moved from Little Village to Gage Park three years ago for the specific goal of beating Burke. “He is out there knocking doors; he just created a Facebook page. He is definitely pandering.”
In addition to Guzman, Burke is also facing challenger Jose Torrez in February.
That new Facebook page confirms that Burke has been making the rounds at neighborhood events and appearances at anti-deportation demonstrations. At City Hall, he forced the leadership of a city-funded, social service agency to explain their involvement in detaining child immigrants. More recently, he targeted an agreement the city has with Gary Airport in Indiana for its work deporting immigrants captured from around the Midwest.
But on Monday, when asked if he’s worried about his upcoming re-election, Burke said no.
“No, the toughest campaign I had was my first one. There even was [another] candidate by the name of Ed Burke in that race,” he said. “Can you believe that?”
Correction: This story has been updated to give the correct spelling of the name of candidate Jose Torrez and Illinois state Rep. Dan Burke’s position.