The political past of Ald. Ed Burke and his place in Chicago history

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CHICAGO  — Edward M. Burke is the longest standing alderman in Chicago history, arguably the most powerful, too. On Thursday, the 75-year-old lawyer and alderman added one more distinction to his resume: criminal defendant.

Burke faces federal fraud charges for allegedly using his office for personal gain.

The son of a Cook County Sheriff’s Deputy turned Chicago alderman, Burke followed in his father’s footsteps. He served as a Chicago police officer from 1965-1968, working the infamous 1968 Chicago Democratic National Convention. He later became a lawyer and Chicago alderman, taking over his father Edward P. Burke's 14th Ward seat in 1969.

Edward M. Burke’s political career has taken many twists and turns over years. Most recently, his City Hall and aldermanic offices were raided twice in two weeks at the end of 2018.

Who would have thought a man once labeled “one of Chicago’s most powerful alderman” would find himself on the wrong side of the law, with 50 years of service under his belt?

He’s written books, headed up the powerful finance committee, and for years he’s been scrutinized for questionable political business practices. Yet none of it amounting to a crime.

Burke has hired former "Operation Greylord" prosecutors to take on his case: Anton Valukas and Charles Sklarsky, both of silk stocking law firm Jenner & Block.

While Burke is widely known for his numerous bans on things like carriage rides in the city, plastic grocery story bags and bath salts with hallucinogenic effects among other things, Burke is perhaps most noted for his role in the council wars dating back to the early 1980s.

The "two Eddies" — Ald. Burke and Ald. Vrdolyak — lead the well-known opposition to then-Mayor Harold Washington. The Vrdolyak 29, as they were called, was a group of  almost all white aldermen who voted as a block and passed only city budgets. Nothing else. It went on for years cementing Burke’s place on City Council and in Chicago’s political machine.

Still, the road has not been smooth for this Chicago mover and shaker. Burke has been greatly criticized for using taxpayer money for 24 hour police protection. During big winter storms, his Southwest Side home had instant snow removal while the rest of the city remained largely buried.  He also took heat when he saved the owner of Trump Tower $14 million in property taxes.

And then there was ghost pay-rolling. Burke was never charged, but there were two separate incidents tied to the 14th Ward suggesting staff was paid for no work.

Today, the man dubbed the most powerful alderman on Chicago’s City Council is preparing for the fight of his life as the federal government brings down the hammer, again, on city politics.

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