This one might be up there for the most Chicago Politics story of all time. A report today in the Chicago Sun-Times points the finger at Ald. Ed Burke for a truly Chicago-style kickback scheme that is as worn as the city is cold in February. The grand plan, you ask? Burke, heading the City Council, approved a $5 million tax deal for a new Vienna Beef factory in Bridgeport in 2013 and, ironically also got a new client (Vienna Beef) at his law firm. It’s a tale as old as time, one that recently saw the firings of Chicago Public Schools heads Forrest Claypool and several Illinois Governors over the last decade or so. Kickbacks are as Chicago as the Bears missing the playoffs, so this latest indiscretion should be no surprise.
In all honesty, Burke is following the traditional career arc for a career Chicago politician. Typically, once you’ve logged enough hours stuffing the pockets of clout-having one-percenters and real estate developers with little regard for the city itself, you take your cut, endure what little scandal comes of it, and ride off into the sunset. It’s what former Mayor Richard M. Daley did after selling off our parking meters and Skyway tolls for personal gain and to cover his own financial mishandling of public funds. It’s also how former CPD commander Jon Burge was able to enjoy his Florida retirement in style with his taxpayer-funded pension after being found guilty of torture and many counts of police brutality used to force confessions of dozens between 1972 and 1991. Many of those convictions have since been overturned to the tune of millions in payouts, once again from taxpayers.
The point is, no one should act surprised or miffed that Burke essentially bankrolled Vienna’s move to Bridgeport to take over and renovate the former Sara Lee factory at 1000 W. Pershing Rd. After hiring Burke’s boutique law firm, Klafter & Burke was paid an undisclosed percentage of the money it saved Vienna, according to the Sun-Times. That would include portions of the $308,460 Burke helped them save on property taxes and $135,602 for a tax refund tied to the purchase.
If we back up a bit more, we’ll start to notice though that this, once again, goes beyond Burke. The reason for the Vienna move was brought on by pressure from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office to annex land near their current at 2501 N. Damen Ave. to alleviate traffic issues in the area. That the city’s largest hot dog manufacturer would then find themselves on the receiving end of a sweet deal that also benefitted one of the city’s most oft-cited aldermen, well it starts to taste like the kind of cronyism that the city is known for.
For their part, Vienna president John “Jack” Bodman, stressed that there was no ask from the alderman to make the deal go through, but of course that has to be stated publicly.
“To imply we had to do something for Ed Burke to get this to go through is not true and not in the right spirit,” Bodman said to the Sun-Times.
Burke has overseen the 14th ward since 1969 and his law firm currently represents over 39 companies that deal directly with City Hall. While it’d be nice to see him face consequences, he’s probably already got his retirement home next to Daley and Burge planned out.