Burke’s Buddy System

Given the eagerness with which gadfly journalist Victor Crown likes to raise political hell, it was only a matter of time before he jumped into this year’s aldermanic fray.

Last week he did just that, releasing an issue of his monthly Illinois Politics devoted to the voting record of Alderman Ed Burke of the 14th Ward. More precisely, the story shows how often other aldermen vote as Burke votes. Plenty of black voters on the west and south sides might be upset to find their aldermen voting with a man who tried to sabotage Mayor Harold Washington’s regime, and Crown’s doing what he can to let them know about it.

“It’s a big issue on black talk radio, where Cliff Kelley’s talking about my story,” says Crown, barely able to contain his glee. “Burke’s a lightning rod.”

And which African-American aldermen are on the hot seat? “Madeline Haithcock in the 2nd–she voted with Burke 71 percent of the time. Her opponent, Geraldine Laury, has the story, and she’s using it,” says Crown. “Arenda Troutman in the 20th voted with him 79 percent of the time. Walter Burnett [27th] voted with Burke over 90 percent of the time and his opponent Rickey Hendon’s going nuts with the story. Lorraine Dixon [8th] voted with him almost 100 percent of the time, but she won’t be in trouble because there’s so much patronage in the 8th that it doesn’t matter what she does. Dorothy Tillman [3rd] may have troubles, ’cause she used to be such an independent and now she votes almost half the time with Burke. You can bet that her main opponent, Pat Hill, knows about our story.”

The council votes Crown tracks aren’t ticky-tacky matters like honorary street designations but substantive issues such as budgets, appointments, and contracts. Many had to do with the ward remap case, in which black activists (assisted by Crown, who helped them draw an alternative map) sued the city on the grounds that the old ward map (since changed) unfairly limited the number of black aldermen. For example, when Dixon, Burnett, Carrie Austin (34th), and Sam Burrell (29th) either voted to use city money to pay private defense lawyers or conveniently missed the vote, they were in effect siding with Burke and Daley and against black plaintiffs.

Crown’s survey is another way of saying council independence has died. This is an old story for Crown; in the past he argued that aldermen are puppets on Daley’s string by using Alderman Pat Huels’s voting record as his guidepost. “But Huels [11th] left the council last year, so he’s not around,” says Crown. “Besides, no one cares about poor Pat Huels. But if you listen to the reaction we get on black talk radio, you understand that the issue of Ed Burke is alive and well. People don’t forget–not in this town.”

The larger question is why Daley allows Burke, chairman of the finance committee, to have so much power over council legislation. “There’s a lot of theories,” says Crown. “Maybe Daley doesn’t want to risk a backlash among white voters who think of Burke as a hero. Maybe Burke’s our own J. Edgar Hoover–the guy who knows where the skeletons are buried. A lot of black aldermen are caught in the middle. They worry about offending Burke, but they don’t want their constituents to know how they vote with him. Well, now they know.”

–Ben Joravsky

Don’t Tread on Me

Joe Moore’s not the only north-side alderman using legal technicalities to scrape his opposition from the ballot. Alderman Mary Ann Smith (48th) spent the last few weeks trying to bounce a political neophyte named Marvin Robinson from the ballot. Only it didn’t work.

“Smith was very up-front about what she was trying to do,” says Robinson, who used to play professional football in the old World Football League and now makes a living as an agent and promoter. “She brought in some lawyer, Morris somebody, and he asked me three times to get off the ballot. I asked why. He said, ‘So we won’t have a race.’ I said, ‘No way–I’m running.’ So we had this hearing and they argued that my signature at the top of the [petition] page wasn’t genuine, like I wasn’t the man who took my own petitions around. I said, ‘That’s it. You want war, let’s fight.’

“But you know what this process is about. They’re trying to bleed you dry, trying to wear you down. This isn’t cheap. I called around and the prices lawyers gave to represent me were anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000. I told them they were crazy.” Robinson wound up with Gloria Chevere, a politically savvy northwest-side lawyer who’s run for alderman and city clerk herself. “When I walked in with Chevere, they knew it was over–they weren’t going to intimidate me anymore. I won the fight to stay on the ballot and now, guess what? We have a real race. Gee, I’m sorry if I’m making her [Smith] have to run. I can’t help it if she just wanted to sit in her office. This is an elected position. They don’t give it to you for life.”

–Ben Joravsky

Tit for Tat

Down in Pilsen, Alderman Danny Solis (25th) has his own way of getting rid of the opposition. Overwhelm them with kindness.

Consider the case of Paulino Villarreal Jr., who recently dropped from the race and endorsed Solis. When asked why, CHA employee Villarreal says he did it for the people: “Basically from going out there and canvassing and talking to the different voters, [I can see] that they’re becoming satisfied with the alderman now.”

What about those rumors that you dropped out after Solis offered jobs for you and your family?

“Um, no comment. Actually, to be very honest, it’s not about receiving jobs.”

But did Solis offer you jobs?

“There’s really not much the alderman can do for me. I’m a civil service employee.”

Villarreal says Solis did come to the aid of a couple less fortunate members of the community. And they weren’t relatives, either. “These were just constituents, people I met as I went along. With what little they had they invited me into their home and broke bread with me.” Solis “was decent enough to open a few doors for them and let the process take its course.”

And not only that. “The alderman is also giving me the opportunity in a nonpaying position–I emphasize that, nonpaying position–of being a liaison for him in the heart of Pilsen. Not only would this be helping him out, it would be helping the community out, and building my character with the community. Should Alderman Solis ever decide to run for Congress, I think it’s a positive sign on his behalf that I hopefully would get appointed.”

Marcelino Vasquez is still on the ballot– not that Solis’s forces didn’t try to woo him off. “They told me they could cut some kind of deal for me if I would drop out of the race,” says Vasquez. “I told them, ‘Don’t insult me. I’m an electrician.'” –Linda Lutton

He’s Got the Power

After Alderman Virgil Jones was convicted on corruption charges, his name was removed from the ballot. But that doesn’t mean 15th Ward voters have no options. Among the 12 candidates competing to replace Jones are two nurses, one naprapath, a construction worker, a cop, and a white guy.

The white guy, John Burys, runs a company that makes novelty items (as he puts it, everything from “board games to back scratchers”) and hopes to win almost every vote from the ward’s Lithuanian enclave around Marquette Park. The cop, Joseph Shaw, says he already knows what it takes to be an alderman (“I get people’s trees trimmed and their heat turned on”). The front-runner remains Democratic ward president Tommie Grayer, who has Jones’s endorsement.

Indeed, Jones says he remains the man to see in the 15th Ward despite his conviction. “I’m still the Democratic committeeman around here. Every dog has his day, maybe even two.” –Grant Pick

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Ed Burke photo by Bill Stamets; Marvin Robinson photo by Jim Newberry; Danny Solis photo/ Robert A. Davis-Chicago Sun-Times.