“I don't see it that way,” said Aaron Ortiz when asked if he is the new political boss of Chicago’s 14th Ward. “To be honest,” the 29-year-old newly elected committeeperson added for good measure.
In March, Ortiz, by just over 200 votes, handed Ed Burke his first-ever political defeat in the race to be committeeperson. Historically, it is the office that pulls the political strings in each ward, something Burke had been doing for decades.
We met Ortiz in Gage Park, where he grew up playing soccer.
In college, at the University of Illinois, he studied urban planning and for a short time was a high school college career counselor. Then came politics.
In a ward that is about 75% Hispanic, Ortiz said Latino issues were too often ignored.
“These individuals, these political leaders of the community, weren’t pushing the policies … of the large, the second largest Latino district in the state of Illinois,” he said.
The 2015 mayoral runoff between Rahm Emanuel and “Chuy” Garcia, Ortiz said, lit a fire in Hispanic voters and in himself.
In 2018, he defeated Ed Burke’s brother Dan, a 27-year veteran of the state House.
Then came the March race for the seat Burke inherited from his father in 1968.
After the election, Ortiz said he did not receive a congratulatory call from Burke.
“No, he did not call me.” As to whether Burke has ever called Ortiz: “No, he has not,” adding, “there is not much of a relationship there.”
Burke’s defeat followed the 2018 FBI raid on his city hall and ward offices and his indictment on 14 counts of racketeering, allegations the 76-year-old Burke firmly denies. He has entered a plea of not guilty in federal court and said from the beginning he has done nothing wrong.
“You know, I think that Ald. Burke right now is really just focused on not going to jail,” Ortiz said.
His election, he said, opened political doors in the ward that for decades remained closed, including for his Spanish-speaking parents.
“Everyday people, like my mom, who might not speak English but does like politics, does like to be involved … in the process of governing.”
For now, Burke remains alderman of the 14th ward, an office he has held since 1969.
Outside his Archer Avenue office sits an imposing sign that still lists, incorrectly, the Burke brothers as committeeman and state representative.
The name Walter Kozubowski remains faintly visible as well, like a ghost from an old federal investigation that sent the one-time city clerk and Burke aprotégé to prison.