Nov 6, 2023 - News

Former Ald. Ed Burke's corruption trial finally begins in Chicago

Photo illustration of Ed Burke with lines radiating from him.

Photo illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios. Photo: Chicago Tribune via Getty Images

The corruption trial for the longest-serving, most powerful alderperson in City Council history begins today at the Dirksen Federal Building.

Why it matters: Former Ald. Ed Burke was the so-called "Dean of the City Council" and spent decades defining Chicago's style of politics. This long-awaited trial is expected to shed light on those practices.

What's happening: He's facing a slew of corruption charges after federal prosecutors accused him of extorting campaign contributions, business for his property tax appeals firm and other favors. Burke was indicted in 2019.

  • The feds' case is largely based on wiretaps worn by Burke's former ally and alderperson Danny Solis. Solis once chaired the zoning committee, while Burke helmed the finance committee.

Context: Burke became the youngest person to hold the position of alderperson in 1969 when he won a special election to fill the 14th Ward seat previously held by his father, Joe Burke.

  • Once elected, the alder stayed in his position for 53 years. He chose not to run for reelection this year.
  • Burke was also a tax appeal lawyer and once a Chicago police officer.

The big picture: Burke's political lineage ties him to other powerful families like the Daleys and the Madigans, both considered royalty in the history of the Chicago machine.

  • Although childhood friends, Burke and former Mayor Richard M. Daley were adversaries during Daley's time in office.
  • Not unlike Rep. Mike Madigan, who has also been indicted for corruption, Burke is accused of creating a political machine on the Southwest Side that doled out jobs and favors in exchange for political (and alleged financial) loyalty.

Flashback: Burke will be forever remembered for his role in leading alders against Mayor Harold Washington during a political battle that became known as "Council Wars."

  • Burke and Ald. Ed Vrdolyak eventually lost their attempts to thwart Chicago's first Black mayor, which some alleged were driven by racism.

Reality check: Burke has eluded federal investigations for years, but because of his lucrative property tax appeal business and serving clients that did business with the city, he was always under ethical scrutiny.

The bottom line: This is a huge trial in the history of Chicago politics, right up there with the trials of former Illinois governors Rod Blagojevich and George Ryan.


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