There are plenty of reasons to dislike Ald. Edward Burke.
He was a leader of The 29, the white resistance against Mayor Harold Washington during Council Wars, and he’s still proud of his role. An entire wall of his City Hall office is decorated with cartoons from that era. He can be pompous and self-important, resting his coffee cup in a saucer monogrammed “EMB,” quoting dead, white male authors on the City Council floor, riding around in a chauffeur-driven car. He’s an unapologetic ward boss, whose minions were accused of roughing up Miguel del Valle supporters on Election Day.
There are plenty of reasons to like Burke, too. He and his wife, Supreme Court Justice Anne, raised three adopted children. Some aldermen have never even read a book, but he’s written two -- one on Chicago political conventions, the other on police killed in the line of duty. And he’s smart enough to have accumulated millions of dollars without getting into legal trouble. That puts him miles ahead of Rod Blagojevich, who was impeached despite never making a dime.
Whatever you think of him, as I told a couple of folks who were fretting about Rahm Emanuel’s election, “Y’all are gonna have to start liking Ed Burke now.” Because his bossism is less objectionable than the bossism Emanuel seeks to impose on Chicago.
During the debates, Emanuel threatened to take away Burke’s six-member police detail and his chairmanship of the Finance Committee. He’s now getting involved in City Council, seeking allies that will give him the 26 votes he needs to dominate the City Council. Burke is said to be seeking enough allies to stop him. Asked on WLS’s Roe and Roeper whether he’d spoken to Burke since his election, Emanuel said, “I want to reach out to all members of the City Council…I’m looking for partners in reform.”
Emanuel didn’t spend $8 million in corporate donations on the mayor’s race because he wants reform. And nobody who voted for him wants reform, either. Anybody who wanted reform voted for Del Valle.
Burke is no reformer -- look at the parliamentary tricks he’s used to block the Sweet Home Chicago ordinance -- but he seems to have the City Council’s reformers on his side. They know that if Emanuel is strong enough to crush Burke, their progressive initiatives will have no chance of passing. I’ve spoken with several independent aldermen who don’t believe Emanuel can dislodge Burke from the Finance Committee -- and don’t want him to, either. Burke will be easier to bargain with. He’s stayed on top of Chicago politics by cutting deals. Emanuel, on the other hand, seeks to reign as an autocrat.
Keep in mind, too, that Ald. Patrick O’Connor, who's been talked about as Burke's replacement on the Finance Committee, was also a member of The 29. With multi-millionaires Ed Burke and Rahm Emanuel fighting for control of the City Council, the progressive agenda isn’t going to get very far. But if you want it to get anywhere, Burke may be your dog.
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