When Che “Rhymefest” Smith was running for alderman, I asked his campaign manager whether the rapper’s music career would distract him from his political duties.
“Not any more than Ed Burke’s million-dollar law practice distracts him!” she shot back.
Now that Burke and his colleagues have filed their annual ethics statement, we know exactly how much he’s distracted. Burke represents 39 companies doing business with the city. Here’s the complete list:
Avis Budget Group; AT&T; Bank of America; Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois; Brandenburg Industrial Service; Centerpoint Properties; Centrum Properties; Cole Taylor Bank; Columbia Michael Reese Hospital; Commonwealth Edison; Community Housing Partner XI, L.P.; Dominick’s; Elenco Electronics; Fifth Third Bank; Friedman Properties; Greater Southwest Development Corp.; The Habitat Company and Harris Bank; Humana, Inc.; Imperial Realty; Jewel Osco; JP Morgan Chase Bank; K-Five Construction; Kenny Construction; Marc Realty; MB Real Estate; New West Realty; Northern Trust; Northwestern Memorial Hospital; Seaway National Bank; Southwest Airlines; South Shore Plumbing & Heating Supply; Standard Bank & Trust; T Mobile; U.S. Equities Realty; Union League Club of Chicago; Walgreens; WBBM and Wentworth Tire.
Burke’s outside legal interests have forced him to refrain from voting on a host of issues involving his clients. You could argue that Burke should have to choose between his high-powered law practice and his powerful City Council position. But of course, if Burke didn’t have a powerful City Council position, he probably wouldn’t have a high-powered law practice, either. It’s impossible to separate Ed Burke, lawyer, from Ed Burke, politician.
Burke actually may be less conflicted than his fellow Southwest Side Irish political boss, House Speaker Michael Madigan, whose law firm has earned hundreds of thousands of dollars by securing property tax breaks for businesses that hold contracts with the state of Illinois.
The question is whether the law practice is an adjunct to the political office, or whether the political office is an advertisement for the law firm. An alderman only earns $110,556 a year. A smart lawyer can earn 10 times that much. So why should Burke and Madigan have to endure a standard of living so far beneath their intelligence, when they can use their prominence to earn so much more?
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!