CHICAGO (CBS) — While insisting he’s “done nothing wrong” Ald. Edward Burke (14th) is stepping down as chairman of the City Council Finance Committee, after he was charged with attempted extortion, the mayor’s office announced Friday morning.
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.
Burke left his Gage Park home Friday morning, surrounded by reporters and photographers.
“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.
Shortly after those remarks came word from the mayor’s office that Burke agreed to resign his post as Finance Committee chairman.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office announced Burke has agreed to resign as Finance Committee chairman. Ald. Patrick O’Connor (40th), the committee’s vice chairman, would take Burke’s place.
“I have spoken with Alderman Ed Burke, who agreed that the best course of action is for him to resign as Chairman of the Committee on Finance. Because of his affection for the city, deep respect for the institution of City Council and the needs of his constituents, Alderman Burke took the appropriate step to put the interests of the city above all else,” Emanuel said in a statement.
Burke declined to comment on his decision as he left mass at St. Bruno Church on Friday. Hours later, he officially submitted his letter of resignation as Finance Committee chair.
Had Burke not resigned his post as Finance Committee chairman voluntarily, the mayor had planned to move forward with steps to force him out. That would have required filing an ordinance assigning a new chairman, to be voted on by the City Council at its next meeting on Jan. 23.
Burke appeared in federal court Thursday afternoon to face a single felony count of attempted extortion. 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.”
After he returned home from court on Thursday, Burke denied any wrongdoing, and said he planned to take the case to trial to clear his name.
“I’ve done nothing wrong,” Burke said. “I believe that I’m not guilty of anything, and I’m trusting that when I have my day in court, that will be clear beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Burke 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.