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Burke Spurns Calls To Drop His Bid For Re-election, But Change Is Coming To City Council Regardless

Five aldermen, including President Pro Tempore Margaret Laurino and Zoning Chairman Danny Solis, are not running for re-election.

Ald. Ed Burke represents the city's 14th Ward.
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CHICAGO — Precisely 24 hours after facing a judge after being charged with attempted extortion, Ald. Ed Burke (14th) made it clear he would not end his 50-year career in public office quietly.

In a brief video posted to Facebook and Instagram, Burke said he “fully intends” to seek a 13th term on the City Council. Wearing his trademark pinstripe suit and sporting a prominent pocket square, Burke thanked supporters and wished them a Happy New Year.

But even if Burke prevails in his bid for re-election, the Chicago City Council will still be fundamentally changed come May.

The body is guaranteed to lose more than 110 years of combined experience — if Burke is ousted, more than 160 years — and has already seen a radical rotation of committee chairmen, including Burke’s forced resignation on Friday.

Aviation Chairman Ald. Mike Zalewski (23rd) retired earlier this year, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel picked Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) to replace him as committee chairman — and former State Rep. Silvana Tabares to represent Zalewski’s Southwest Side ward.

President Pro Tempore Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th), Zoning Chairman Ald. Danny Solis (25th), Ald. Willie Cochran (20th), Ald. Ricardo Muñoz (22nd) and Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) are not running for re-election.

While Laurino and Solis are retiring, Pawar is making good on his promise to serve no more than two terms as alderman — and is running for treasurer.

Cochran is set to go on trial in June on corruption charges, and Muñoz faces charges he assaulted his wife on New Year’s Eve.

City Council’s second and third most senior members — Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), elected in 1983, and Ald. Joe Moore (49th), elected in 1991, are locked in tough re-election battles with young, progressive challengers.

O’Connor replaced Burke Friday as the chairman of the Finance Committee, and Moore chairs the Housing and Real Estate committee, which hears affordable housing issues and approves city land sales and leases.

O’Connor replaced Burke under the council’s rules of procedures, which call for the vice chairman of a committee to replace the chairman in the event of a resignation.

Burke began chairing City Council’s finance committee in 1983, the year Mayor Harold Washington was elected. Burke helped lead the Vrdolyak 29, a block of 28 white aldermen and 1 hispanic alderman, who sought to thwart Washington’s agenda as part of Council Wars, a racially polarized conflict.

Burke lost his chairmanship briefly in 1987 when he was replaced by then-Ald. Timothy Evans during Washington’s second term, but regained it under Mayor Richard M. Daley and has held it ever since. The committee has a $2.3 million budget and 25 positions.  

Muñoz’s retirement — planned before he was arrested for striking his wife after drinking — means the Progressive Caucus will lose its most senior member and one of its most knowledgeable parliamentarians.  

Laurino and Solis have been trusted Emanuel allies helping to keep Council operations humming —  and Solis has played a key role in ensuring that Emanuel’s pro-development philosophy translated into approvals for high-profile developments, including the opening of the formerly industrial land along the North Branch of the Chicago River to residential development.

Even before Burke faced charges that he attempted to extort the owners of a Burger King in his ward, Emanuel’s departure and the energy fueling Chicago’s progressive community meant that some aldermen had start to rebel against the agreement — dating back to Richard M. Daley’s administration that gave the mayor the power to appoint committee chairmen.

Ald. John Arena (45th) objected to O’Connor’s elevation, and said Progressive Caucus Chairman Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) should lead the committee in the wake of Burke’s resignation.

“I think we need to put somebody in there that the city of Chicago sees as trustworthy and above reproach,” Arena said, adding that he was working to “head off power brokers divvying up the pie again.”

The new leader of the Finance Committee should be picked by the heads of the City Council’s caucuses, Arena said.

“It should be made by the aldermen, it shouldn’t be at the advice and consent of the mayor — we are our own legislative body and we control our own destiny and we should represent ourselves in this,” Arena said.

Waguespack and other progressive aldermen have called for no longer allowing the mayor to pick committee chairmen, and vowed to push through a measure taking back that power.

In the old days, such a push would have ended up stuck in the limbo of the Rules Committee, where Burke, Emanuel and their allies frequently send legislation they oppose to languish.

In this new era of Chicago politics, whether it succeeds will be a clear sign of whether a new day has actually dawned at City Hall.