Burke’s Finance Committee Paid Aldermen’s Phone Bills, Travel Expenses, Records Show
Ald. Ed Burke, former chair of the City Council Finance Committee and arguably City Council’s most powerful member for much of his 50-year reign, had various ways of dishing out perks and favors to colleagues. One of those, apparently, was to help some aldermen pay their bills.
Burke approved the use of Finance Committee funds to pay for things like aldermanic travel and an office phone system, according to records obtained by WTTW News.
According to documents, the Finance Committee reimbursed outgoing 49th Ward Ald. Joe Moore more than $24,000 in travel expenses from 2014 to 2018. Moore incurred the expenses by attending semi-annual meetings of the National League of Cities, an association and federal lobbying group for municipal lawmakers. Moore says he represented the city of Chicago at those meetings, and that he was always told to submit his travel reimbursement to Burke and the Finance Committee instead of the city’s budget office.
“I was told you put in a request to the Finance Committee. I never questioned it,” Moore said. “It’s just one of those ways Burke built up chits. But I never felt that way about it. I still took him on legislatively from time to time.”
Records show that Burke’s Finance Committee also reimbursed outgoing Alds. Pat O’Connor (40th Ward) for $929 in 2017 and Margaret Laurino (39th Ward) for $3,363 in 2018 for trips to National League of Cities meetings.
A spokesperson for Laurino says that the National League of Cities meeting was a valuable way to meet other colleagues and come up with legislative ideas. The spokesperson says that former 28th Ward Ald. Ed Smith instructed her to submit her travel expenses to Burke’s Finance Committee.
“She did not have enough money to cover it herself in her aldermanic budget,” Laurino spokesperson Manuel Galvan said. “Ed [Smith] said, ‘What you do is you file your expenses with the finance chair and you’ll be get reimbursed.’ That’s why she did that.”
In 2017, records show the Finance Committee helped pay for a new telephone system in outgoing Ald. Ricardo Munoz’s 22nd Ward office.
Munoz submitted bills to the Finance Committee for phone payments to AT&T totaling around $10,000 in 2017.
“Will the two of you coordinate with Alderman Munoz re: down payment and final payment. EMB (Edward Michael Burke) approved,” said one top Finance Committee staffer in an email to other staff members.
“He has a budget that’s huge, and we, the other 49 aldermen, have limited budgets,” Munoz said. “We scrounge, we hustle. We look for ways to pay for stuff and his was the way to pay for my phones. There was never a quid pro quo. I supported Tanya (Burke’s opponent in the 2019 aldermanic race). This was for operating expenses.”
WTTW News previously reported on Burke’s habit of loaning out staff workers to aldermen, free of charge. Alds. Nick Sposato (38th), Matt O’Shea (41st), Marty Quinn (13th), Walter Burnett (27th), Brian Hopkins (2nd), Gilbert Villegas (36th) and Ray Lopez (15th) have all taken Burke up on the offer. Most of those aldermen told WTTW News that they never felt pressured to return the favor to Burke.
Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) introduced an ordinance earlier this year that aims to end the practice of City Council committees loaning out staff members to work in the ward offices of individual aldermen.
Burke stepped down from his perch as chair of the Finance Committee in early January, a day after being charged with one federal count of attempted extortion. He defeated his challenger to win another term on City Council, but faces a possible federal indictment in the next month.
Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz