No escaping the Burke bug for mayoral candidates

That bug that Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) has caught continued Friday to send shivers through the race for mayor.

Burke, as readers know, is suffering from a newly-diagnosed case of alleged attempted extortion with complications of wiretap, which is lots more serious than the post-nasal drip that many of us picked up over the holidays.

Burke’s malady now threatens to infect multiple mayoral candidates who have been exposed to his past political embrace, even as they seek to distance themselves as quickly as possible.

In fact, the one saving grace for many of the leading contenders is that they are similarly afflicted, each having been pulled into Burke’s web at one time or another. This is definitely a case where misery loves company.

ANALYSIS

No mayoral campaign was hit harder by Thursday’s criminal complaint against Burke than Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who actually figured tangentially into the charges.

Federal prosecutors contend Burke shook down the owner of a Burger King franchise in his ward, in part for a $10,000 contribution to another politician, later identified as Preckwinkle.

The donation came in conjunction with a January 2018 fundraiser for Preckwinkle hosted by Burke at his Gage Park home.

There’s confusion over what happened with the $10,000, which Preckwinkle never disclosed at the time and only did so belatedly on Thursday after Burke was charged.

She contends her campaign returned the entire $10,000 within 10 days because it exceeded the state’s $5,600 contribution limit. Investigators indicated in court documents the Preckwinkle campaign kept $5,600, which the campaign disputes.

There was no indication Preckwinkle was aware of any extortion attempt, and I would be shocked if she was, which doesn’t excuse her judgment in using him as a fundraiser.

In a further effort to separate herself from the alderman, Preckwinkle’s campaign offered the ludicrous defense that the fundraiser at the Burkes’ home was the result of her friendship with his wife, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke.

We can agree that Justice Burke deserves to be treated as an individual in her own right, apart from her husband, and that she and Preckwinkle have a “shared passion” for criminal justice reform, as a campaign spokesman asserted.

Ald. Ed Burke (14th) walks into the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, Thursday afternoon, Jan. 3, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

But here’s the thing: as a judge, let alone a Supreme Court justice, Ann Burke is prohibited from engaging in fundraising for any political candidate. So if it really was her fundraiser for Preckwinkle, that would be a big legal problem for her.

The reality, of course, is that Ed Burke does the fundraising in that family, which is why his name was the only one atop the fundraiser invitation.

And any candidate allowing Burke to host a fundraiser on their behalf should know the score about how he does business and should understand that he is a politician who, casting matters in their most favorable light, trades in favors.

In accepting fundraising help from Burke, Preckwinkle had to realize she was making another accommodation with the dark side of Chicago politics, just as she had when she made her alliance with former Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios.

But who is going to throw that rock? Surely not the other leading mayoral contender, state comptroller Susana Mendoza, a longtime Burke political ally.

Burke loaned his name to two Mendoza fundraisers while she served as city clerk, an office of particular interest to the alderman as it was for many years an outpost of his ward organization.  In neither case was Burke the main host, and neither fundraiser was held at his home.

The clincher for Mendoza is that she got married in the Burkes’ home in 2011 in a service officiated by Anne Burke before going through a second ceremony a week later in a Joliet church.

Much like Preckwinkle, Mendoza attributed the decision to have her wedding in the Burke’s home to her admiration for Anne Burke. But she surely understood that the Burkes come as a package deal that extends beyond the alderman entertaining on the piano.

Then there’s Gery Chico, the candidate Burke says he supports for mayor.  He and Burke have been friends and allies since Chico worked at City Hall.

A spokesman for Chico said Burke has never hosted a fundraiser for him in either this or his two previous political campaigns — and now he says he won’t accept Burke’s support.

One of the first mayoral candidates in this election cycle to suggest it was time for Burke hang it up was former U.S. Commerce Secretary William Daley.

But Daley has his own Burke baggage. He helped broker the deal between Burke and his brother, Mayor Richard M. Daley, that returned Burke to the role of Finance Committee chairman, a post he never again relinquished until Friday.

If Chicago voters want a mayor who hasn’t been exposed to the Burke bug, they’ll need to keep looking.

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