Spotlight Politics: Mayoral Candidates Scramble Amid Burke Fallout
Defensive words from City Council members who have proposed a flurry of reforms in the wake of the Ald. Ed Burke scandal. Carol Marin and Paris Schutz dive into that story and more in this week’s Spotlight Politics roundtable.
It’s getting more and more difficult for some of the bigger-name mayoral candidates to run away from their connections to Ald. Ed Burke, who is facing a federal charge of attempted extortion.
Toni Preckwinkle had to face a revelation in that federal criminal complaint that Burke had allegedly pressured the owner of a group of fast food restaurants to donate to her successful campaign for Cook County board president. Preckwinkle says her campaign immediately rejected the donation when they saw that it was above the legal limit. But the criminal complaint notes that a “campaign committee” had acknowledged to “Individual A” and “Individual B” that the legal amount of $5,600 was accepted.
Preckwinkle has responded to the fallout by stripping Burke of his power within the Democratic Party to slate judicial nominees, and has called on him to resign.
Preckwinkle lashed out at the criticism from other campaigns for her ties to the Burkes by tweeting: “I will not have my name dragged through the mud over apparent criminal conduct by Susana Mendoza mentor, Gery Chico best friend, and (Bill Daley’s) longtime ally.”
Indeed, Burke’s ties to multiple mayoral candidates runs deep. In a 2011 video of a City Club of Chicago speech, Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza reveals that Burke invited her to an Irish-American fellowship event where she won a raffle prize of two free roundtrip tickets to Ireland. It was on that trip that her now-husband, David Szostak, proposed to her.
“Alderman Burke, and I swear … this was not rigged, but he invited me to an Irish-American fellowship breakfast where everybody who showed up was entered into a raffle to win two round-trip tickets to Ireland,” Mendoza said. “And while it was not rigged, I won! So within a month of winning this huge election (for Chicago City Clerk) I win two round-trip tickets to Ireland.”
The video not only reveals the close personal relationship between Mendoza and Burke, but could present an ethical problem for her. According to the city ethics code, Mendoza would have to report the tickets (assuming they are worth over $500) as a gift on her ethics disclosure forms. She did not, although has the option of amending her form. (That same year, Mendoza and Szostak were married in a ceremony at the home of Burke and his wife, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke.)
The Mendoza campaign would not comment on the video, but said that Mendoza’s relationship to Burke has always been strictly professional.
“Ed Burke’s ward fell in Susana’s legislative district when she was a state representative, as Susana is known for doing, she worked collaboratively with all of the aldermen who’s wards fell in her district,” said Mendoza campaign spokesperson Rebecca Evans.
The campaign scrambling comes as Mayor Rahm Emanuel and several alderman scurry to propose a host of ethics reforms in the wake of the Burke scandal. Chief among the proposals: beefing up conflict-of-interest laws, banning outside employment for aldermen, and more investigative power for Inspector General Joe Ferguson.
Emanuel also announced the city’s workers’ compensation program would move from the Finance Committee, which Burke oversaw for decades, into the executive branch of government. It’s a reform that many have called on for years, citing Burke’s unchecked power to run the opaque $100-million fund. Burke has since stepped down as chairman of the Finance Committee, and has been replaced by vice-chairman, Ald. Patrick O’Connor (40th).