If you thought for a moment that the City Council’s most powerful aldermen would ride off into the sunset after 50 years in politics to avoid a difficult election he could lose, think again.
Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee, is running for re-election.
“Why would you wonder?” Burke asked reporters Monday.
Burke has a political bulls-eye on his back after his brother, state Rep. Dan Burke (D-Chicago), was defeated by 26-year political newcomer Aaron Ortiz in a race dominated by Edward Burke’s property tax reduction work for the riverfront hotel and condominium that bears the name of President Donald Trump.
But Ald. Burke said Monday he does not believe his brother’s March 20 defeat is a prelude to his own political demise.
“He carried the 14th Ward. Not by enough to overcome the other areas. But fortunately, the people in the 14th Ward did vote for him,” the alderman said.
Ortiz was part of a coordinated campaign led by Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, the Cook County commissioner who easily won the Democratic primary in the 4th Congressional District after being anointed by retiring U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez.
Even more humiliating was the fact that Edward Burke managed to carry his own 14th Ward for his younger brother by just 62 votes. That’s the same 14th Ward where Garcia captured 64 percent of the vote in a 2015 mayoral run-off against incumbent Rahm Emanuel.
On the day after that upset, Clem Balanoff, head of Our Revolution Illinois, a grass-roots political organization that grew out of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, made a bold prediction:
“We are coming after Ed Burke,” said Balanoff, who managed the Ortiz campaign.
“Whether he sees it or not, the handwriting is on the wall. Ed Burke will not be aldermen come May of 2019. … We have a young, energetic movement going on the Southwest Side of Chicago. There’s no room for smoke-filled, backroom politicians like Ed Burke, who are only serving themselves and not the public.”
Balanoff and Garcia could not be reached for comment on Burke’s decision to run for re-election.
On the day after the election, Garcia was asked whether he intended to field an aldermanic challenger against Burke.
He would say only: “The Burke dynasty is sunsetting. It’s sunsetting against the emergence of a Latino community that wants to make its voice heard and its vote felt. … This is only logical. The community is seeking to ensure that its vote begins to approximate the population that lives in those communities.”
Burke has run unopposed in 10 of the last 11 elections. He sits on a massive campaign war chest and has never won less than 70 percent of the vote.
But even his political allies have acknowledged that Dan Burke’s March 20 defeat was a gut-punch that should prompt Edward Burke to at least entertain the thought of political retirement and working with Garcia to find a suitable Hispanic replacement.
That would require burying a 19-year-old hatchet. Burke was instrumental in the Illinois Senate race that saw Antonio Munoz defeat Garcia.
“He has an opportunity to put in a progressive Latino and ensure that whatever legacy he has in the 14th Ward will continue. If he doesn’t, he can stay and possibly lose — particularly if Chuy backs someone against him,” a Burke ally told the Sun-Times.
“Ed has to make a decision as to whether he wants to dictate the circumstances of his departure. If he doesn’t give a shit about that, then hubris sometimes will make you stay a little too long.”
For Burke, it would be difficult to voluntarily relinquish the trappings of power he covets so much.
As Finance Committee chairman, he wields enormous influence over legislation, even when he abstains from votes because of the conflicts posed by having dozens of law clients doing business with the city.
His fundraisers are packed. He is squired around the city by bodyguards, though Mayor Rahm Emanuel cut his security team in half.
But during the heat of his brother’s failed fight for political survival, sources said Burke told more than one political associate: “This isn’t fun anymore.”
On Monday, Burke made it clear that the remark was not a prelude to political retirement.
That’s no surprise to retiring Ald. Mike Zalewski (23rd).
“I don’t believe for a second that Ald. Burke is interested in leaving,” Zalewski said last week.
Pointing to the avalanche of tax increases that aldermen have approved to solve Chicago’s $36 billion pension crisis, Zalewski said, “Everyone is gonna have to campaign a little harder next time. Ald. Burke is well aware of that. And I think he’s ready for it.”