Governor Pat Quinn (left) on Wednesday appointed the daughter of Alderman Ed Burke to a $117,000 post at the Illinois Pollution Control Board. Burke’s campaign fund loaned Quinn $200,000 during the gubernatorial race and has donated approximately $52,000 since.
His appointment on Wednesday of 41-year-old attorney Jennifer Burke—daughter of Alderman Ed Burke, next to Rahm the biggest foot in city politics—to the Illinois Pollution Control Board seems utterly over the top, even reckless.
I called the governor to get some explanation, His press secretary, Annie Thompson, emailed: “Jennifer Burke is highly qualified to serve on the Pollution Control Board, having spent several years working in the state’s legal system. Most recently her focus has been on regulatory and environmental protection issues for the city of Chicago’s Department of Law. The Governor continues to appoint highly qualified individuals who are experts in their fields … to sit on the state’s boards and commissions. To suggest otherwise is utterly absurd.”
I also spoke to State Senator Dan Duffy, a first-term Republican—he now lives in Lake Barrington but grew up in Beverly—who has become a lonely voice against this kind of nepotism. Speaking by telephone as he drove his family home from their cottage in Wisconsin, he described Quinn as “so extremely arrogant that he doesn’t believe he has to suffer any consequences for his actions.”
When Jennifer Burke’s confirmation hearing rolls around during this fall’s veto session, Duffy pledges to scream about the appointment—her father’s campaign fund loaned Quinn $200,000 during the gubernatorial race and has donated approximately $52,000 since—Duffy admits, however, that the daughter will “absolutely” sail through. If he’s lucky, he might get a few Republicans to vote “no,” but the majority Democrats—they hold 35 seats in the 59-member Senate— and most of the Republicans will “rubberstamp” to confirm.
Last year when Duffy huffed and puffed against Quinn’s reappointment of Lynne Sered to chair the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board—her husband is Democratic State Senator Jeff Schoenberg of Evanston—he was the lone dissenter. Republicans sometimes sidle up to him on the Senate floor, he says, and whisper that their party also made patronage appointments when they held the statehouse.
Jennifer Burke, who graduated from IIT/Chicago-Kent College of Law in 1995, and from 2003-2006 was a partner at Jenner and Block, does have experience in environmental and regulatory issues. She currently works as an assistant corporation counsel supervisor at a salary of $99,948 ($90,752 when furlough days are considered). So with her new salary of $117,043, she’s in for a raise. (She will be required to leave her city job to take the state post.) Burke did not respond by post time to my telephone voice message left late Thursday on her office phone.
Duffy, a small business owner whose run for the state senate seat three years ago was his first ever for elective office, called these appointments “Quinn pro quos.” He says he doesn’t see much difference between Blago and Quinn, who, for decades, has cast himself as a lonely, iconoclastic reformer. “This is typical pay-to-play politics—the same bad policy of appointing politically connected people to positions,” Duffy says. “Things are so bad in Illinois that nothing surprises anybody anymore. I think Blago is thinking, ‘What’s the difference between me and Quinn?—and Quinn’s the governor and I’m going to jail.’”
Ironically, one of the more entertaining snippets of tape that the feds collected from Blago was the then-governor trying desperately to hatch a plan to fatten the family’s coffers by landing Patti a high-paying position. “What about the Pollution Control Board?” Blago asked, but he backed down when his chief of staff told him that Patti wasn’t qualified and that the position involved real work.
I hoped Rahm Emanuel might want to weigh in on the Burke appointment—a ticklish subject I know because the new mayor has not yet been able to get Burke to give up his expensive police bodyguard detail. I emailed three of the mayor’s press secretaries with a request for a response. No response yet from any of them.
Photography: Chicago Tribune