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Burke son among Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s clout hires

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart  |  Sun-Times file photo

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart | Sun-Times file photo

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Updated: March 12, 2013 6:08AM

When Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart was thinking about running for Chicago mayor, he got one of his biggest campaign contributions from The Burnham Committee, one of Ald. Edward M. Burke’s political funds.

The $10,000 campaign gift in September 2010 came a little more than a year after Dart hired the 14th Ward alderman’s son, Edward M. Burke Jr., as an assistant chief deputy sheriff — a job that paid $65,616 a year, county records show.

About a month after getting the contribution from Burke’s group, Dart folded his campaign for mayor, leaving the field to succeed Richard M. Daley to the ultimate winner, Rahm Emanuel.

Last year, Dart promoted the younger Burke — and gave him a 25 percent pay raise, records show.

Burke Jr. holds one of 210 jobs in the sheriff’s office that are exempt from the Shakman decree, the federal court order that bans patronage hiring for most government jobs in Cook County. Another 6,430 jobs in Dart’s office are covered by the order, which means hires for those jobs are to be made based on qualifications, not clout.

Other Shakman-exempt employees on Dart’s payroll include two nieces of his predecessor as sheriff, Michael Sheahan; the wife of Sheahan’s former patronage director; and a brother of a judge who had worked for Sheahan.

Dart didn’t respond to interview requests about his political hires.

A top Dart aide says all are qualified for their posts and do them well.

“These people are some of the hardest-working people I’ve ever seen,” says Helen Burke, who heads Dart’s bureau of administration and is not related to Ald. Burke. “None of these are 9-to-5ers.”

Dart hired Burke’s son in August 2009. Burke Jr., 41, is a former Cook County Forest Preserve District police officer who also had been assigned to state and federal narcotics task forces.

The sheriff gave the younger Burke a promotion in February 2012 to head his agency’s child-support enforcement unit. The 25 percent raise that came with the promotion boosted Burke’s salary to $85,667.

Four months later, a 3.5 percent cost-of-living raise given to most county employees bumped up Burke’s yearly salary to $88,878 — his current pay.

Burke’s wife, Jackie, works for the United Neighborhood Organization, a not-for-profit organization that promotes opportunities for the Hispanic community and operates government-financed charter schools in Chicago. Burke’s mother, the alderman’s wife, is Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne M. Burke.

Dart’s other political appointees include:

Margaret “Peggy” Sheahan and Nora Sheahan, nieces of former Sheriff Sheahan and daughters of James “Skinny” Sheahan, who was the city of Chicago’s special events director under former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Dart hired Peggy Sheahan, 37, a former teacher, in September 2008. She works in the Cook County Jail’s re-entry and diversion department, where her duties include teaching classes for inmates. Her pay: $65,564 a year.

Nora Sheahan, 32, started work as an administrative assistant in the sheriff’s communications and community affairs department in November 2010. She helps Frank Bilecki, Dart’s spokesman, respond to news inquiries and produce an employee newsletter. Her pay: $69,957.

The Sheahans “work their asses off and should not be judged based on their last names,” says Bilecki.

Katherine L. Walsh, 44, the wife of Martin P. Walsh, who was former Sheriff Sheahan’s patronage director. Marty Walsh was the subject of news stories in the late 1990s when a former girlfriend filed a federal lawsuit in which she claimed she lost her job in Sheahan’s office when she broke up with Walsh. She also claimed Walsh demanded she repay him for her breast implants, which he had paid for. Cook County settled that case for more than $625,000.

Marty Walsh, who left the sheriff’s office in 1999, married Katie Walsh in 2000. She was making $52,657 a year working for the sheriff’s office at that time, records show. Sheahan promoted her later that year to a $95,000-a-year director’s post.

“I don’t know anything about that,” Marty Walsh says of his wife’s 80 percent pay raise. “I was gone. I really don’t have anything to do with that office.”

In March 2007, about three months after he took office as sheriff, Dart demoted Katie Walsh to an $87,479-a-year job. But after getting a new job in 2008 as deputy director of the jail’s re-entry and diversion department, and also getting a series of “step” and cost-of-living raises, she’s now paid $104,260 a year.

Marty Walsh gave $800 to Dart’s campaign fund in 2009, records show. Through Bilecki, Katie Walsh says the contributions were for her family’s tickets to a Dart Cubs game fund-raiser at a rooftop overlooking Wrigley Field.

Timothy G. Brennan, 45, a brother of Daniel P. Brennan, a Cook County circuit judge who had been a lawyer in the sheriff’s office under Sheahan. Tim Brennan, who gave $1,000 to Dart’s campaign when was running for sheriff in 2006, also worked for Sheahan. He’s now an assistant superintendent in the sheriff’s training institute, making $107,426 a year.

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