As you likely heard, former Chicago City Council Alderman Ed Burke was found guilty on 13 of 14 federal racketeering and bribery counts. The counts were based on evidence from cases by the US Attorney involving the Old Post Office in downtown Chicago, a Burger King restaurant in his ward, a Binny's Beverage Depot store, and the Field Museum - all pay to play politics.
I served on the Council with Alderman Burke for about 15 years. He was the Chairman of the Council Committee on Finance for all but a short time of those 15 years, but he held the seat for decades before I became Alderman. After a short stint by former Alderman Pat O’Connor, I succeeded Alderman Burke as City Council Finance Committee Chairman.
For many years, a handful of Alderman and I worked on improving our City Ethics code, fostering openness and oversight of the Council and committees, pressuring for transparency on contracts, programs, and spending and prohibiting the abuse of public trust by elected and appointed officials and lobbyists that had damaged our City.
While we were not always able to win outright on the Council floor, for instance, on more oversight by the Chicago Inspector General or prohibiting aldermen from doing business that is adverse to taxpayers while refuting their fiduciary duty to the City, we were able to educate citizens and gain more ground on good government as more people came to join our ranks.
As the new Finance Chair under Mayor Lightfoot, I was finally in a position to make significant transparency and fiduciary changes to the practices and operations of the Committee on Finance. We embraced outside auditing on the City of Chicago workers compensation program as it shifted to the executive side of government, reduced costs of running the Committee, and implemented good government practices we had been recommending prior to entering office with the Inspector General and Council.
Aldermen have always had a fiduciary duty to represent the City of Chicago and taxpayers through fiduciary rules and codes of conduct. This fiduciary duty obligates all elected officials to “discharge their public duties at all times in the City’s best interest,” and we “must place loyalty to the federal and Illinois constitutions, laws, and ethical principles above (their) private gain or interest.”
As the US Attorney said this week, the jury members that convicted Alderman Burke were affirming the public disapproval of pay to play politics and worked to stop public corruption.
As one of our many City elected officials, I will continue to work toward more open, transparent and accountable governance. We all must serve with honesty and integrity, and abide by the laws we took an oath to uphold.