CHICAGO (CBS) — A day after longtime Ald. Edward Burke (14th) was charged with attempted extortion, he is already losing a great deal of his power and influence in the City Council. Burke has agreed to resign as Finance Committee chairman, is losing his taxpayer-funded police security detail, and the committee he once controlled is being stripped of control of the city’s workers’ compensation program.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office said it is moving to disband Burke’s protective detail, including police officers who serve as the alderman’s bodyguards, and a police department SUV he uses for work. It’s not yet clear when Burke will officially lose that security detail, but the move could happen as soon as Friday afternoon.
Burke officially submitted his letter of resignation as Finance Committee chair on Friday. With him stepping down effective 5 p.m. Monday, the committee’s vice chairman, Ald. Patrick O’Connor (40th), will take his place, but he won’t have a security detail.
The mayor’s office said O’Connor didn’t want the security detail, and going forward, no future Finance Committee chairs will be assigned a protective detail.
In addition, the mayor’s office is moving to remove control of the city workers’ compensation program from the Finance Committee, bringing the program under control of the mayor’s office, likely within the Finance Department.
Burke had overseen the $100-million-a-year workers’ compensation program for decades, and it had operated largely in secret, and exempt from oversight by the city’s inspector general.
The mayor’s office also said it is working on a series of ethics reforms that specifically address the Burke criminal complaint. Emanuel will introduce those proposals next week.
With nearly 50 years in office, Burke is the longest-serving alderman in Chicago history. While he’s faced multiple investigations over the years, this is the first to lead to criminal charges.
Burke has denied any wrongdoing, and said he plans to take the case to trial.
“I haven’t done anything wrong, and I’m looking forward to my day in court to establish that I am innocent of those charges,” he said.
Burke is accused of trying to use his position as alderman to convince a company seeking city permits to hire his private law firm in exchange for his support.
According to the criminal complaint against him, Burke tried to use his position as alderman to shake down to executives for a company that was seeking to renovate the Burger King at 40th and Pulaski — the same restaurant where 17-year-old Laquan McDonald walked through the parking lot moments before he was shot and killed by police in October 2014.
The complaint quotes wiretap recordings from Burke’s cell phone, along with emails, in which he discusses trying to convince company officials to hire his private law firm for property tax work, in exchange for his support for building and driveway permits for the renovation project.
In one recording, Burke and a ward employee talked about playing “hard ball” with the company and its executives, after learning they had started the renovation project without hiring his law firm.
“I took ’em to lunch. I was playing nice with ’em–never got back,” Burke told a ward employee in October 2017, according to court documents.
“All right, I’ll play as hard ball as I can,” the employee replied, according to the charges.
While the company never hired Burke’s law firm, and eventually completed the renovation project, the feds said Burke also asked one of the company executives to attend a campaign fundraiser for “another politician.” That executive allegedly did not want to attend, but agreed to donate $10,000 to the politician to appease Burke. That contribution was later amended to $5,600 because of limits on contributions.
While the complaint against Burke does not identify the “other politician,” according to published reports, it was Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who is running for mayor.
Preckwinkle’s office has said it rejected the contribution, and filed an amendment to its campaign donation reports on Thursday “out of transparency.”
Burke turned himself in Thursday afternoon, and after an initial hearing on the case, was released on an unsecured $10,000 bond, meaning he would only have to post bail if he missed a required court date.
The longtime alderman is facing four opponents in the February election. If he were to win another term in office, he could only be forced out if convicted of a felony. The charge against him carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.