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Ald. Edward Burke’s rise to power on Chicago’s City Council

As the 14th Ward alderman for more than half a century, Edward Burke not only has claimed the record as the longest-serving City Council member in the history of Chicago, but he also became one of the most powerful.

Here’s a look at his life, career, indictment and upcoming trial.

Born to Joseph P. and Anna Burke.

Graduates from Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary before, as he later told the Tribune, he changed his mind about his religious ambitions and “decided to do something else that a lot of good Irish-Catholic boys decide to do — become a policeman.”

Passes the Chicago police civil service exam — placing ninth out of 546 men — while earning a bachelor’s degree from DePaul University.

Aldermen John J. Hoellen (47th Ward) and Edward T. Scholl (41st Ward) include Burke’s name amongst 22 police officers who they say received promotions as a result of “political influence and favoritism.”

Burke later told the Tribune he was not a regular beat cop. Instead, he was given a plum assignment working on the police detail assigned to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.

“It was a political office and the selection of who was assigned to the detail was generally made with political considerations,” he said.

Burke’s father, Joseph, dies at 57, of lung cancer. A former deputy sheriff who was bailiff to Superior Court Judge James J. McDermott — himself a former 14th Ward alderman — and Democratic precinct captain, the elder Burke was first elected 14th Ward alderman in 1953, to complete the term of Clarence Wagner, who died in a car crash. Joseph Burke defeated his blind Republican opponent Fred C. Lilley by more than 8,600 votes.

Joseph Burke was running unopposed to retain his City Council seat at the time of his death.

Is admitted to the Illinois State Bar Association after completing studies at DePaul University’s College of Law.

Becomes one of eight candidates to file petitions for the 14th Ward vacancy. Another Edward Burke, a truck driver, enters the race with Republican support but drops out two days later.

Edward Burke, second from right, on the day he was sworn in as alderman is with his mother, Mrs. Ann Burke, and Judge Joseph B. Hermes, left, and the Rev. Richard Wolfe of Visitation Parish, in City Council Chambers on March 14, 1969.

Beats out 6 other candidates to succeed his father’s seat. Three days later he’s sworn in by Mayor Richard J. Daley at age 26 — becoming the second youngest alderman in city history. The only person to sit on City Council at a younger age was Col. Robert R. McCormick, future publisher of the Tribune, who was elected to the position in 1904.

Ald. Edward M. Burke (14), 25, wheels a baggage cart  as he performs his first official duties in the Moskala Armory at 2025 E. 71st Street on July 26, 1969, in Chicago.

Formerly granted a hardship deferment from the military draft during the Vietnam War, Burke is reclassified as available for military service. It was doubtful Burke would be drafted, however, as a 26-year-old newlywed who was the primary provider for his wife, Anne, his mother and two younger brothers.

He avoids military duty by joining a U.S. Army reserve unit commanded by a friend one month later.

Introduces an ordinance with 10th Ward Ald. Edward R. Vrdolyak requiring metal detection devices — called “Friskem” — to be used at the city’s airports. The city, however, says the work should be done by a national or international group.

The Federal Aviation Agency (now Administration) begins screening passengers at O’Hare International Airport using electronic screening devices on Jan. 6, 1973.

Burke and Vrdolyak are considered Young Turks — known as the “Coffee Rebellion” aldermen for plotting their futures over the drink at the old Sherman House Hotel — who oppose older stalwarts for leadership positions in the Democratic Party.

During an argument outside council chambers, Burke threatens to punch 5th Ward Ald. Leon Despres in the mouth.

Despres tells Burke, “Thank you for not doing it,” before returning to chambers.

The two later shake hands and make up.

Ald. Edward Burke, center, and members of New City tour the neighborhood of 52nd and Green streets to view the rundown condition of the homes and alleys in 1975.

City Council passes “Burke’s Law,” an ordinance proposed by the 14th Ward alderman that outlaws nudity in massage parlors. The nickname was inspired by a popular television detective show from that time.

A proposal to lift a 25-year-old ban on pinball machines in Chicago is derailed by Burke and other aldermen who feared school children would spend their lunch money in the machines. Burke also expresses concern that organized crime could become involved in the distribution of the machines.

Jane Byrne, who was fired by Mayor Bilandic as consumer commissioner, packs up her office at City Hall on Nov. 21, 1977.

Mayor Michael Bilandic fires Jane Byrne, Chicago’s commissioner of consumer sales, after she accused him of “greasing” the way for taxi fare increases. Byrne also accused Aldermen Burke and Vrdolyak of being in league with the cab companies. Bilandic told the Tribune her firing “was ordered because she was plainly insubordinate.”

Just five months later, Byrne became his opponent in the Democratic primary, describing herself as an alternative to the “cabal of evil men (that) has fastened itself onto the government of the city of Chicago.” (Byrne defeated Bilandic on Feb. 27, 1979, thanks to a blizzard.)

A downcast Ald. Edward M. Burke stands with his wife, Anne, as he concedes defeat to State Sen. Richard M. Daley in the Democratic race for the Cook County state's attorney nomination on March 18, 1980.

Burke — Byrne’s choice — loses the Democratic primary for state’s attorney. Richard M. Daley defeats Burke by a 2-1 margin, then later defeated Republican Bernard Carey in the general election. Daley retains the job until he became mayor in 1989.

Harold Washington, from left, Richard Daley and Jane Byrne at a mayoral debate on Jan. 31, 1983, are

U.S. Rep Harold Washington wins the Democratic primary race for mayor, defeating Byrne and Daley.

“The Democratic Party has been divided for the last four years,” Burke, a Byrne supporter, told the Tribune. “The question is, Will it get back together again?”

Washington is elected the first Black mayor of Chicago on April 12, 1983.

Aldermans Edward M. Burke, left, and Edward R. Vrdolyak at City Hall in Chicago in May 1983.

Washington abruptly adjourns his first city council meeting. Before he leaves, Washington tells the group that anything that happens afterward is illegal.

A white majority of 29 aldermen who oppose Washington — led by Vrdolyak and supported by Burke — then seizes control of city council and approves a new lineup of committee chairmen and leaders. Burke is named chairman of the powerful City Council Committee on Finance and retains the title until 1986. He picks it up again in 1989.

Mostly left off the list are Washington’s supporters — who loudly scream and chant in the gallery.

The “Council Wars” — pitting a weak mayoral system against a strong council — continued until 1986, when a federal judge ordered that the city’s ward map be redrawn to better reflect the city’s racial demographics. That gave Washington’s supporters 25 of the 50 seats in the City Council, and with the mayor casting a tie-breaking vote, the stalemate was broken.

  • Photo gallery: Chicago’s Council Wars pitted defiant white aldermen against a reform-minded Washington

Before a memorial service for Mayor Harold Washington, fellow alderman listen to Ald. Ed Burke, center, at City Hall on Nov. 25, 1987.

Washington, re-elected just seven months prior, dies unexpectedly of a heart attack at 65.

Burke, whose name was considered as a potential candidate for mayor, votes instead for 6th Ward Ald. Eugene Sawyer, who is named acting mayor.

Endorses legalized sports betting — but not casino gambling — in Chicago as a way to increase tax revenue and ease the burden on the city’s taxpayers.

“People are going to gamble no matter what,” Burke said. “I see no objection to extending off-track betting to sports betting, which could work right into that system so long as it is adequately controlled.”

(Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill legalizing sports betting in Illinois on June 28, 2019.)

Announces he will run for mayor. Burke acknowledges making mistakes during the years Washington was in charge.

“There are many things I would change. I would not be worthy of your support or trust if I did not have the capacity to learn from those mistakes and then go forward,” he told the crowd.

Bows out of the mayor’s race quietly — by not filing nominating petitions before the deadline — just one week after Daley announces his candidacy.

Daley wins the primary on Feb. 28, 1989, then the general election on April 4, 1989, and remains mayor until 2011. His 22 years in charge of the city is the longest of any Chicago mayor — including his father.

Federal authorities seek records from Burke’s Finance Committee as part of Operation Haunted Hall. The four-year probe centers on ghost payrolling — government no-show jobs — and sees a former city clerk and daughter of an alderman convicted.

Burke blames a dead man — Horace Lindsay, D’Amico’s Finance Committee supervisor — for forging time sheets.

“I don’t supervise the personnel,” Burke said then. “Do you expect I should know where everybody is, all 75 or 80 people or whoever’s there?”

At the time, officials had been looking closely at Burke since former short-time Ald. Joseph A. Martinez, who was a lawyer in Burke’s private law office and onetime Finance Committee employee, pleaded guilty to charges that he held ghost jobs with three City Council committees while working full time for Burke’s law firm.

Publishes a commentary in the Tribune stating he is opposed to “ultimate fighting” and proposes banning the matches in Chicago.

Tribune reporter Rick Kogan writes, “Never mind that producers of this event never have expressed interest in holding a match in Chicago. Burke is making what he calls a ‘pre-emptive strike.’”

A City Council resolution kept by Peggy Knight exonerating her great, great grandmother Catherine O'Leary of starting the Great Chicago Fire and a photo of her attending the 1997 hearing with her cousins.

Introduces a resolution to exonerate Catherine O’Leary — and her cow — 126 years after the Great Chicago Fire. Burke said “reliable evidence” suggests the popular account of the fire, which has one of the O’Leary dairy cows kicking over a lantern to light the blaze, is false.

The City Council Committee of Fire and Police adopted the resolution on Oct. 6, 1997.

The Burkes become permanent private guardians of “Baby T,” a boy who had lived with them in foster care since he was 8 days old. The boy’s biological mother was found not fit to take custody of the child. Today, he is known as Travis.

Announces Mayor Daley’s retirement in the middle of a City Council Finance Committee debate that he was leading — at the same time Daley was revealing the news.

“Wow, wow,” Burke said. “So all you wanna-be mayors, I guess you better run out and get your petitions.”

Susana Mendoza announces a run for city clerk and is joined at her campaign launch by Burke.

“I was privileged and proud to be her supporter in her first race,” said Burke, who compared Mendoza to the Energizer Bunny. “She keeps going and going and going and going.”

Mendoza, in turn, called the powerful alderman a “true champion of mine.”

“He is really primarily the reason that I stand here before you today as a state representative,” Mendoza said.

The next year, Mendoza would be wed at the Burke home.

A Tribune/WGN-TV investigation shows former state Rep. Robert Molaro doubled his public pension after spending just one month as an aide to Burke. His $12,000 pay for the one month of work at the city allowed him to boost his state pension from about $64,000 a year to about $120,000.

Then-Gov. Pat Quinn signs a bill to close this loophole in 2012.

Ald. Ed Burke, 14th, listens during city council debate in 2012.

Inspector General Joseph Ferguson seeks access to records related to the workers’ compensation program to review it for waste and inefficiency. Burke denies Ferguson access to those records, contending they fell outside the watchdog’s jurisdiction.

In late August, a federal grand jury issues subpoenas for the program’s database, injury records, medical assessments and claim investigation records dating back to January 2006. Federal authorities also had subpoenaed similar records in 2006. Nothing appeared to have come of those requests.

Gives concerned citizen George Blakemore — a regular attendee and commentator at City Council meetings — an honorary badge in recognition of his hard work keeping an eye on the city’s affairs.

Authorities allege Burke tried to extort executives with a company that owns fast-food restaurants in the Chicago region and was seeking approval of permits for remodeling work at a location in Burke’s ward.

Retiring Chicago Ald. Daniel Solis signs a secret agreement with federal prosecutors admitting to taking bribes from real estate developers in exchange for his help on zoning issues.

The terms of the unprecedented deferred prosecution agreement Solis signed with the U.S. attorney’s office that day aren’t made public until April 2022.

He became a government mole by wearing an undercover wire to help federal investigators build cases against Burke and ex-House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Burke holds a fundraiser for Cook County Board President and Chicago mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle at his Gage Park home.

After serving as former President Donald Trump’s lawyer for more than a decade — helping to lower the property bill on Trump’s downtown skyscraper by more than $14 million — Burke announces that he no longer represents Trump.

Unidentified people carry boxes from Ald. Edward M. Burke's 14th Ward office in the 2600 block of west 51st Street on Nov. 29, 2018, in Chicago.

Burke’s City Hall and 14th Ward offices are raided as part of a federal investigation as his wife, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, is sworn in to a 10-year term.

“As you are aware, there have previously been several other investigations such as this. In every instance we cooperated fully. And in every instance nothing has been found,” Burke said in a statement. “So once again, we will be cooperating fully, and I am completely confident that at the end of the day nothing will be found amiss in this instance either.”

A second search is carried out just weeks later.

Ald. Edward Burke departs after turning himself in on Jan. 3, 2019, at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse.

A federal criminal complaint unsealed Jan. 3, 2019, charges Burke with attempted extortion for allegedly using his position as alderman to try to steer business to his private law firm from a company seeking to renovate a Burger King in his ward. The charge carries a maximum of 20 years in prison on conviction.

The campaign contribution that federal prosecutors allege powerful Burke requested as part of an extortion scheme was intended for Cook County Board President and Chicago mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle, according to two sources familiar with the investigation.

Preckwinkle said she returned the money while the federal complaint states the candidate who received the money kept $5,600.

The FBI had Burke’s cellphone tapped over at least an eight-month period, and during that time, at least 9,475 calls were made or received on the phone, according to the bombshell corruption charges.

Burke turns himself in to federal prosecutors at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse before appearing before a magistrate judge in a packed courtroom on the building’s 17th floor. He’s released on a $10,000 unsecured bond, meaning he would have to pay that amount only if he failed to appear in court as required.

The entrance to the City of Chicago Committee on Finance at Chicago City Hall on Jan. 4, 2019.

Announces he will end his long run as the powerful chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee after being charged with attempted extortion, but said he would stay in the race for another term representing his Southwest Side ward.

Then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel says he would remove the city’s $100 million-per-year workers’ compensation program, which Burke has clouded in secrecy for decades, from the City Council and place it within the city’s Finance Department.

Indicted on 14 counts including racketeering, federal program bribery, attempted extortion, conspiracy to commit extortion and using interstate commerce to facilitate an unlawful activity.

The 59-page indictment outlines a series of schemes in which Burke allegedly tried to muscle developers into hiring his law firm, Klafter & Burke, to appeal their property taxes. Among the projects Burke tried to capitalize on was the massive $800 million renovation of the post office in the West Loop, according to the charges.

Ald. Ed Burke, 14th, departs the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago on June 4, 2019, after being arraigned on multiple federal corruption charges.

Pleads not guilty to sweeping corruption charges.

A short time later, Mayor Lori Lightfoot renews her call for Burke to resign his office, saying, “I don’t know how he can properly function with integrity.”

His lawyers allege that federal investigators bungled the wiretap of Burke’s phones and improperly tried to set him up in a scheme involving the old main post office that forms the backbone of the corruption case.

Ald. Ed Burke's photo is shown at his seat in council chambers on June 22, 2022, after a City Council meeting at City Hall.

A federal judge rules against Burke and his co-defendants in a slew of pretrial motions seeking to suppress evidence and toss certain charges in his racketeering indictment, putting the case on track for a trial in 2023.

Anne Burke announces she is retiring at the end of November after 16 years on the high court.

Ald. Ed Burke, 14th ward, listens to city council discussion of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s $16.4 billion 2023 budget, Nov. 7, 2022.

Declines to file nominating petitions by the deadline meaning his current 13th term on the City Council will be his last.

Sources: Tribune reporting and archives; city of Chicago

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