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The Mayoral Debate: Could Rahm Emanuel Take On Ed Burke?

Ed Burke took a licking from Rahm Emanuel in last night’s WTTW mayoral debate. But the city’s longest-serving alderman and finance committee chair has taken them from Jane Byrne, Harold Washington, and Mayor Daley, and keeps ticking.

So apparently the big news from last night’s WTTW debate (being a hopeless romantic, I was having Italian food with my wife) was that Rahm Emanuel said he’d send Ed Burke’s bodyguards to a fish take away the longtime alderman’s security detail and maybe his powerful finance committee chairmanship, though the latter seems to be close reading.

This has generated some glee among the political-nerd regulars in the Capitol Fax comment section. But don’t hold your breath.

Longtime Hyde Parker Don Rose, meanwhile, served as press secretary for King when the civil rights leader brought the movement to Chicago in 1965 and 1966, and he also advised independent political candidates. In 1979 Rose orchestrated Jane Byrne’s stunning triumph over Mayor Michael Bilandic and what was left of the first Daley machine. During the campaign, Rose encouraged Byrne to rail against aldermen Eddie Vrdolyak and Ed Burke, calling them an “evil cabal.” Unfortunately, once in office Byrne cut a deal with them, allowing Vrdolyak to remain chairman of the important building and zoning committee and Burke to keep chairing the police committee.

“An Island in the Swamp,” Ben Joravsky, Chicago Reader, 3/4/10

[Harold] Washington narrowly defeated Epton, but even then the fight wasn’t over. Alderman Edward Vrdolyak put together a coalition of 29 aldermen (28 white, one Puerto Rican) who battled Washington every step of the way for the first four years of his reign. If Washington said the sky was blue, Vrdolyak and his loyal sidekick, Alderman Ed Burke (yes, the same Ed Burke who represents the 14th Ward today), said it was gray. They blocked his appointments to top city posts, ignored legislation he introduced, and even accused him of prejudice when he had the nerve to provide black and Latino neighborhoods with their fair share of services and investment.

“Harold and the Hyneses,” Ben Joravsky, Chicago Reader, 2/4/10

“He’s probably the most able leader of the City Council just in pure smarts and understanding of the legislation since Tom Keane, who was floor leader under Mayor Richard J. Daley–until [Keane] went to jail for corruption,” says Dick Simpson, a political science professor at University of Illinois at Chicago, former alderman of the 44th Ward and author of Rogues, Rebels and Rubber Stamps: The Politics of the Chicago City Council from 1863 to the Present.

“The Private Public Life of Ed Burke,” Jessica Curry, Chicago Life, 8/1/05

Although he once was an ally of former Mayor Jane Byrne—a foe of current Mayor Richard Daley—Burke has managed to survive and thrive during Daley’s long reign.

“City Council offers to tribute to Ald. Ed Burke for 40 years of service,” Hal Dardick, Chicago Tribune, 3/18/09

If Emanuel really does decide to take Burke on, it will be absolutely fascinating.

Coda: I thoroughly enjoyed the 50 Alderman, 50 Artists show back in 2010 (full disclosure: it was co-organized by a friend and former colleague), but my favorite piece was the photo of Ed Burke. He’s a powerful man–the longest-serving alderman, the son of a committeeman-turned-alderman, the husband of a state supreme court justice–and Jennifer Greenburg’s photo of Burke is a subtly wonderful portrait of old-school power.

(H/t to Capitol Fax commenter wordslinger for the inspiration to go hunting.)

Update: Worth re-reading: Carol Marin’s December column about the 1980 mayoral race and how Rahm Emanuel : Richard Daley :: Gery Chico : Ed Burke.

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