Emanuel-Burke battle brewing
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter email@example.com February 15, 2011 8:38PM
Updated: May 24, 2011 5:05AM
In 1983, Mayor Harold Washington used his inaugural address to declare an end to “business as usual” at Chicago’s City Hall.
Then-Ald. Edward R. Vrdolyak (10th) portrayed it as a declaration of war against the City Hall power structure — and used it to organize 29 aldermen, most of them white, against Washington. Council Wars was born.
Nearly three decades later, Rahm Emanuel is laying down the gauntlet in a similar way to the City Council’s longest-serving and most powerful member, Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th).
If elected mayor, Emanuel says he would reorganize the City Council — and strip Burke of his police bodyguards and possibly his Finance Committee chairmanship.
The difference between then and now is Emanuel’s ability to turn his words into action.
If he wins more than 50 percent of the vote on Tuesday, Emanuel will be free to spend some of his huge campaign war chest on runoffs to elect aldermen who will reorganize the Council in his image.
In other words, Burke’s days could be numbered. He did not return phone calls.
“Who’s gonna stop [Emanuel] — especially with all the new aldermen? He’ll co-opt all of them immediately,” said a longtime City Hall observer who asked to remain anonymous.
But what about Burke’s $8 million war chest and the political favors he has done for his colleagues over the years? Couldn’t he call in those markers to hold on to the Finance Committee chairmanship?
“I don’t see how. He doesn’t have as much to offer as the mayor. He doesn’t call the shots every day on who’s getting what money and what developments,” the source said.
Burke was part of the “stop-Rahm” movement, a group of aldermen who feel liberated by Mayor Daley’s retirement and view Emanuel as a younger, more energetic version of the dictatorial Daley. Burke’s questioning of Election Board Chairman Langdon Neal during City Council budget hearings laid the groundwork for the residency challenge that dominated much of the mayoral campaign and nearly cost Emanuel his place on the ballot. Burke has since endorsed his longtime friend and former employee Gery Chico for mayor.
But, as livid as Emanuel may be, several aldermen questioned whether he would pick a fight with the alderman who knows best where the bodies are buried at City Hall.
“Would you want Burke sitting out there [ticked] off at you knowing what he knows? He’s like J. Edgar Hoover,” one alderman said of Burke.
“A lot of people can’t vote against Burke out of friendship and loyalty,” one alderman said.
Another alderman added, “If you take Burke out [as chairman], you have to have someone to put in Finance who can handle it. The only one I can think of is [Ald.] Pat O’Connor. But my gut tells me Pat would try to broker a deal before he would take it away from Burke.”