On Thursday, a 14-count federal indictment was filed against long-time Alderman Ed Burke (14th). The charges center around an allegation that the former Finance Committee chair forced the developer of the Old Main Post Office to retain his law firm’s services.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot called the allegations “alarming,” and that Burke should resign from his post. However, until an alderman is convicted of a crime, they can continue to serve on City Council. Lightfoot also plans to investigate other city employees that are referenced, but not named, in the indictment.
The 59-page document revealed details on multiple scandals where Burke used his power and position to profit. It outlines cases of racketeering, extortion, and attempted bribery. So far, the alderman has flat out denied any wrongdoing.
What the indictment says about Burke
Earlier this year, Burke was charged with extortion after an FBI investigation revealed he shook down owners of a Burger King trying to get a permit for a renovation. But now more alleged scandals have come to light, many of which involve Burke using his position to extort private legal work for his firm Klafter & Burke from people looking to do business with the city. It also reveals some of the recordings from former Alderman Danny Solis (25th), who was an FBI informant for two years, and now faces his own criminal charges.
- In 2017, Burke told Solis that he wouldn’t allow the developer of the Old Main Post Office get necessary permits and financing because the “the cash register has not rung yet.”
- When the developer still hadn’t retained his law firm, Burke told Solis that they could “go f— themselves,” and that there wasn’t a chance they’d get on the council agenda to request the 100 million tax-increment financing district.
- In another instance in 2017, a permit for an existing Binny’s sign on Irving Park was denied, and then approved after it was made clear to the operator that he needed to retain Burke’s law firm.
- Also in 2017, Burke also threatened to derail a museum’s fee hike after the museum didn’t respond to the alderman’s questions about an internship for a friend’s child. It’s likely the Field Museum, but it isn’t mentioned in the indictment.
Mayor Lightfoot will investigate
Just hours after the news broke, Lightfoot called for Burke’s resignation. On Friday morning, the mayor held a press conference and said the city could not move forward when elected officials are profiting at the expense of citizens.
“I’ve heard a range of stories, from business people of all stripes, where they feel compelled to play the game in order to get basic city services,” the mayor said. “This is why aldermanic prerogative is so corrupting and corrosive.”
Lightfoot plans to investigate if city employees referenced in the indictment were complicit in any corruption. And she said that any employees who “did the right thing” would be protected and supported.
“I hope that this is a cautionary tale for any alderman, particularly the newly minted alderman, that this is not a path that they should go on,” the Mayor continued. “Public service isn’t about enriching oneself. Public service isn’t about taking resources and shaking people down. There’s nothing about that, that’s consistent with any notion of true public service.”