Mayor Lightfoot Tells Ald. Burke To Step Down

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot following her first City Council meeting on May 29, 2019.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot following her first City Council meeting on May 29, 2019. Claudia Morell / WBEZ
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot following her first City Council meeting on May 29, 2019.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot following her first City Council meeting on May 29, 2019. Claudia Morell / WBEZ

Mayor Lightfoot Tells Ald. Burke To Step Down

WBEZ brings you fact-based news and information. Sign up for our newsletters to stay up to date on the stories that matter.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Friday demanded that indicted Ald. Ed Burke step down immediately from the Southwest Side seat he’s held for more than half a century.

Lightfoot doubled down on her earlier call for Burke to step down during a press conference Friday morning. That’s after Thursday afternoon’s long-anticipated federal indictment came down on the veteran 14th Ward alderman, slapping him with 14 new corruption-related counts.

“The superseding indictment alleges that Alderman Burke used his power and influence to compel city employees and others to bend to his will all in the service — not of the people — but of his corrupt pecuniary interest,” Lightfoot said. “And for these reasons I believe that he has forfeited his moral authority and the privilege he needs to continue as alderman of the 14th Ward.”

Lightfoot said she would memorialize her resignation request in a formal letter to Burke.

Burke is accused of using his powerful perch at City Hall to steer business to his private law firm, which deals in property tax appeals. He was charged with attempted extortion in January, and Thursday’s indictment added racketeering and bribery charges to his case.

The indictment laid out one alleged scheme dating back to 2016, in which Burke used his former position as the chair of the City Council Finance Committee to block developers of the Old Main Post Office site from getting a taxpayer subsidy until they hired his law firm.

In another case, federal prosecutors say Burke threatened to hold up an admission fee increase requested by the Field Museum in an effort to get a friend’s child an internship there.

Lightfoot pointed to those alleged schemes on Friday to say that new charges suggest Burke’s way of doing business at City Hall has been “absolutely repugnant.”

The mayor is a former federal prosecutor who previously took part in one of the largest takedowns of aldermanic corruption, known as Operation Silver Shovel. Still, she said the indictment against Burke was unprecedented.

There was “nothing like” what’s been alleged in the federal case against Burke, she said Friday. “It is just a degree different and more serious and more wide-ranging and more problematic.”

The new mayor said Burke’s own words caught on wiretap are “most damning,” and illustrate how embedded the culture of corruption is at City Hall. The indictment is full of alleged conversations Burke had with aldermen and his staff as he allegedly tried to extort developers and others who had business before the city.

“If you are in this to make money, you are in the wrong job,” Lightfoot warned. She has asked the city’s law department to investigate whether any current city employees were involved in the alleged schemes outlined by federal authorities. She also stressed whistleblowers will be protected.

“We’ve got to restore integrity and legitimacy, and that’s obviously not going to be easy to change these kinds of cultural mores, but I am determined to do everything I can to change it,” she said.

Burke, the City Council’s longest-serving alderman, has quickly become Lightfoot’s main political nemesis. After he was charged in January, she worked to use him as a poster child for self-dealing and corruption in city government.

But the mayor doesn’t have the authority to force an alderman to resign. Burke was re-elected handily in February, despite the federal cloud hanging over him. And aldermen can’t be made to relinquish their seats unless they’re convicted of a crime.

Burke’s attorneys maintain he has done nothing wrong. He’s set to be arraigned in federal court Tuesday morning.

Claudia Morell covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @claudiamorell.