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Why Burke Will Outlast Emanuel

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Why Burke Will Outlast Emanuel
Jack Higgins

Here’s an anecdote from the Richard J. Daley biography American Pharaoh that may give you a hint as to how the Edward Burke-Rahm Emanuel power struggle will turn out.

In 1975, John T. Kluczynski, the congressman from the Southwest Side, died of a heart attack. The 31-year-old Burke, who had been an alderman for six years, wanted his seat. When Daley asked Burke to serve as a pallbearer at the funeral, the young politician thought he was in.

“I had visions of myself sailing on the waters of the Potomac,” Burke told co-authors Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor.

As it turned out, Daley slated an elderly Polish alderman, John T. Fary, for the seat.

“There was a sense that he didn’t want to commit to making me a congressman and foreclosing the possibility that he could send one of his kids to Congress,” Burke said. “It was clear that John Fary was a temporary seat warmer.”

That ended Ed Burke’s Washington aspirations. After that, Burke committed himself to Chicago politics, becoming the longest-serving alderman in the city’s history, and one of the most powerful. When Fary retired, Ald. William Lipinski won his seat.

Emanuel plans to take away some of that power, by creating a new Committee on Workforce Development and Audit, which will handle some of the big legislation that now passes through Burke’s Finance Committee. Mayor Emanuel did fulfill his promise to cut the number of committees, but not before creating a new one with a nonsensical name, mainly to prevent Burke from holding up any of his pet initiatives.

“The intent is not to dilute his power,” 40th Ward Ald. Patrick O’Connor, an Emanuel ally who has served as mediator between the two biggest egos in City Hall,told the Sun-Times. “It’s not about power and this committee vs. that committee. It’s about making the committee structure make sense and having the ability to respond to today’s challenges.”

Unlike Burke, Emanuel did go to Congress, and he hasn’t given up his Washington ambitions. He’s still an integral part of the Obama Administration, making frequent phone calls to the White House and assisting on the president’s goal of raising $1 billion for his re-election campaign. Emanuel has already been talked about as a candidate for governor, senator or president.

Burke isn’t going anywhere. Emanuel will be his seventh mayor. He’ll probably be around for an eighth, and when that mayor is sworn in, the Finance Committee will be as powerful as ever.

Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!

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