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Last of the Eddies

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Last of the Eddies
Last of the Eddies

City of Chicago

Alderman Burke.

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A long, long time ago, in a Chicago far, far away, there were three Eddies. Edward Vrdolyak, Edmund Kelly and Edward Burke were the leaders of Council Wars, the white resistance to Mayor Harold Washington.

Burke was the least of the Eddies. Vrdolyak, known citywide as “Fast Eddie,” was chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party, and boss of The 29, the bloc of white aldermen who blocked Washington’s every move. Kelly was head of the park district, and committeeman of the “Fighting 47th” Ward. Burke was just Vrdolyak’s sidekick.

Vrdolyak was so unhinged by his loss of Council Wars that he became a Republican, ruining his political career. He’ll be going to prison next month for his role in a hinky real estate deal. Kelly retired after a challenge by his protégé, Ald. Eugene Schulter.

That leaves only one Eddie. Ed Burke. His nickname is “Slow Eddie,” and it fits, because he’s been sitting on the City Council for nearly 42 years, waiting for his chance to run the city. In 1989, he ran for mayor, but dropped out to avoid hurting Mayor Daley’s chances. Daley rewarded Burke by reappointing him chairman of the Finance Committee, a job he’d lost under Washington.

As Finance Committee chairman, Burke is the second most powerful politician in Chicago. His committee reviews all spending bills, and he gets a desk in front of the room, from which he gives long-winded speeches which show off his study of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. (“As Winston Churchill once said…”) His wife is on the state supreme court. His brother is a legislator. But as long as Daley is mayor, Burke is a distant second. Now that Daley is retiring, Burke sees his big chance. The last thing he wants is an autocratic mayor like Rahm Emanuel, who may fight him for control of the Finance Committee.

Burke’s man in the mayor’s race is Gery Chico. A Southwest Side boy, Chico grew up in Burke’s ward, attending Kelly High School. Burke gave Chico his start in city government, as a staffer on the Finance Committee, and has called him “an outstanding asset for government. Gery Chico has never accepted an assignment he did not do well and complete successfully.” In return, Chico calls Burke “my dear friend.”

Chico would not try to take away Burke’s chairmanship. He says he wants a more collaborative relationship with the City Council than Mayor Daley. Does that mean Burke will be up there in the mayor’s office, helping to write the budget, a power the city council hasn’t exercised since the first Mayor Daley snatched it away? Some aldermen think so. If Chico wins, the question isn’t whether Burke will be co-mayor. The question is who will be master.

(Update: Chico's spokesperson, Brooke Anderson, says Chico will be master: "I can assure you, if elected, Gery Chico will be the mayor -- nobody else.")

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