Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Why Ed Burke Needs a New Sign

View Comments (
)
|
Email
|
Print
Why Ed Burke Needs a New Sign
Jack Higgins

There has been nothing but bad news coming out of Ald. Edward Burke’s 14th Ward this week.

Last Saturday, one of Burke’s constituents, a devil-worshipping drug dealer from Brighton Park named Arturto Ibarra, slit the throats of three men in an Edgewater apartment, then led police on a high-speed shootout up Broadway. Ibarra’s pickup truck finally crashed at the corner of Devon and Greenview, where the police shot him in the head.

On Thursday, the Chicago Tribune told the story of John Pietraszek, an 80-year-old man who was found frozen to death in the decrepit Gage Park bungalow where he had spent his entire life. Pietraszek, who was alone in the world except for his cats, last paid his People’s Gas bill in 2003.

Your Ward Room blogger drove through the 14th Ward the other day, on the way to Hawthorne Race Course. The ward could use a makeover, starting with Burke’s own office.

The big brown sign outside the 14th Ward Democratic Party Headquarters on 51st Street is the most enormous monument to an alderman anywhere in Chicago. It looks like a bank sign. There’s even a digital clock, although the bulbs burned out years ago. Burke’s name is prominently featured, in white capital letters. His brother, state Rep. Daniel Burke, is listed below, in lower-case letters.

At the bottom, is a third politician: Walter Kozubowski. You probably don’t remember Kozubowski, but he was the Burke ally who served as city clerk until 1993, when he was sentenced to five years in prison for bank fraud, mail fraud and tax evasion. (While in office, Kozubowski was kind enough to employ Dan Burke as deputy clerk.) Kozubowki’s name has been painted over, but the ghost of the ghost payroller is still visible.

The ward is 88 percent Latino, but you have to look on the office door to see the names of Spanish officeholders, including City Clerk-elect Susana Mendoza, who now represents part of the ward in the state legislature. The ethnicity of Chicago’s city clerks has changed from Polish to Latino, but the 14th Ward has undergone the same change, so it’s been able to keep the office.

When I got to Hawthorne, my friend Sig Bogdiewicz was there. Like the man who froze to death, Sig is one of the neighborhood’s last Polish holdouts, having lived in the same Brighton Park two-flat since 1926. Burke has only been alderman for half that time, but Sig always wears an “ALD. ED BURKE” baseball cap to the track. I told Sig the devil-worshipping drug murderer had lived on his block.

“Really?” he said. “He must have lived in that three-story building. There are always guys without jobs hanging out there.”

The 14th Ward has undergone a lot of changes, but two things never change: the alderman, and his enormous sign.

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!

Leave Comments