Burke and Emanuel now are close, like distant relatives
By Abdon M. Pallasch and Fran Spielman Staff Reporters May 18, 2011 5:36PM
14th ward Alderman Ed Burke and Mayor Rahm Emanuel shake hands during the mayors first City Council meeting. Wednesday, May 18, 2011 | Brian Jackson~Chicago Sun-Times
Updated: June 22, 2011 6:51PM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ald. Edward Burke looked like back-slapping bosom buddies at their first City Council meeting Wednesday.
“On behalf of all of the members of the City Council, it gives us great pleasure this morning to welcome you to this chamber, and to this legislative body,” Burke told Emanuel.
Council members allowed the mayor a say in who chairs their committees, but it remains to be seen if the body will function more independently of the mayor’s office than it did under Mayor Daley.
“We welcome your bold ideas and grand plans,” Burke told Emanuel. “We look forward to your engagement in this people’s parliament. We anticipate your creative approach to this great municipal undertaking.”
Burke has served as the Council’s leader and elder statesman for decades. His stature was threatened 22 years ago when he ran for mayor but pulled out when it became clear Richard M. Daley had the inside track.
Daley’s brother Bill brokered a deal that allowed Burke to continue as Finance Committee chairman, running the City Council under Daley. The relationship between the two long-time rivals never became warm, but at least publicly, they never criticized each other and Burke backed Daley on every vote.
This time around, when Emanuel’s residency was challenged, Emanuel suspected the involvement of Burke, who openly supported long-time friend Gery Chico for mayor.
But once again an accommodation has been reached. Burke gave up much of his power to Emanuel ally Ald. Patrick O’Connor (40th), but Burke still largely ran Wednesday’s meeting, still holds the purse strings as Finance chairman, and he keeps the front seat in the Council.
As at Mayor Daley’s first meeting 22 years ago, the mayor’s most oft-repeated phrase was, “The chair recognizes Ald. Burke ...”
Burke eloquently spoke on behalf of his fellow aldermen, giving one of the Chicago history lessons that has become his forte. He chronicled mayors who changed the course of rivers or the course of the country by electing presidents. He quoted President John F. Kennedy, Daniel Burnham, Marshall Field, Helen Keller, Bill Gates and Tip O’Neill.
“This is a city that settles, as Daniel Burnham knew, for no little plans,” Burke said. He presented Emanuel with a gavel that he said he hoped would not shatter as Mayor Carter Harrison’s did 100 years ago in this very chamber.
Emanuel thanked him for the gavel and said, “Well, you quoted Tip O’Neill ... President Kennedy ... I’d like to quote Yogi Berra: When you get to a fork in the road, take it.”
Then Emanuel descended from the podium and gave Burke ... Was it an embrace? A bear hug? A man-hug?
“You guys seem to like the word ‘embrace.’ I thought it was a handshake. But that’s O.K. It was a bear hug. It was like a member of the mishpocheh.” Emanuel said, using the Yiddish word for extended family.
So how did Burke and Emanuel work out their differences in a private meeting at O’Connor’s house?
“Can I remind you,” Burke asked, “Of a quote I am fond of repeating, from the great statesman Edmund Burke, that ‘In politics, there are no permanent enemies, no permanent friends, only permanent interests.’”