Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), powerful chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee, on Thursday threw his support behind his longtime friend Gery Chico for mayor.
Chico served as a Finance Committee staffer under Burke during Council Wars. Burke’s 14th Ward Democratic Regular Democratic Organization circulated Chico’s nominating petitions. Members of the Chico family are longtime residents of the 14th Ward.
Burke’s questioning of Election Board Chairman Langdon Neal during City Council budget hearings also laid the groundwork for the residency challenge that has so far failed to knock mayoral hopeful Rahm Emanuel off the ballot.
On Thursday, Burke offered a glowing endorsement of Chico, leaving no doubt about where he stands.
“Look at his record. He’s been chief of staff in the mayor’s office. He’s been president of the school board, president of the park board, president of the junior college board. He’s a skilled lawyer,” Burke said.
“I invite you to check the record of the City Council meeting not too many months ago when he was approved as the head of the junior colleges. In excess of 40 members of the City Council stood up and praised his ability, skill, honesty integrity. He’s well-known and well-liked by members of the City Council.”
Asked whether his remarks should be characterized as an endorsement, Burke said, “What’s an endorsement? I support Gery Chico. I’m happy to be his friend. I’m happy to have had him on my staff when he was going to law school at night. I’m happy to have written a recommendation for him when he got his first job as a lawyer. Happy to know him and his family. They hail from the Southwest Side. The Chico family has been active in the 14th Ward for generations. ... It is what it is.”
Chico spokesperson Brooke Anderson said: “Gery’s family is from the 14th ward. His father owned a local gas station in the neighborhood where Gery worked as a kid. He first met Ald. Burke when he became chairman of the Finance Committee, where Gery was serving as a young staffer. It means a lot to Gery to have Ald. Burke’s support as we work to build the coalition to win this race.”
Emanuel’s spokesman Ben LaBolt refused to comment on Burke’s endorsement of Chico.
Burke is believed to be among the leaders of the Stop Rahm movement — a group of Democratic ward bosses liberated by Mayor Daley’s impending retirement who have been searching for an alternative to Emanuel, whom they view as a younger, more energetic version of the dictatorial Daley.
In 1989, Burke dropped out of the mayor’s race and threw his support to Daley. The deal restored Burke to the role of Finance Committee chairman he had held during Council Wars, the notorious power struggle that saw 29 mostly-white aldermen thwart Mayor Harold Washington’s every move.
The question now is whether Burke would be knocked off his powerful perch if Emanuel is elected mayor.
During a meeting last week with the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board, Emanuel dodged repeated questions on whether or not he would retain Burke as Finance Committee chairman. He also refused to say whether he believes Burke is the heavy hand behind the residency challenge.
The former White House chief-of-staff has conceded that there may well be a “Stop Rahm” movement among some veteran Democratic ward bosses who favor a strong Council and weak mayor. But, he has reiterated his desire for a “fresh start” with more input and collaboration from the City Council.