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Patience, please

Monday, Feb 4, 2019

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

We’ve known for weeks now that the FBI recorded Chicago Ald. Ed Burke’s mobile phone conversations over a period of eight months, listening in on 9,475 calls. And then we discovered that the feds had wired up Chicago Ald. Danny Solis during his own conversations with Burke.

Ald. Burke has a rather, um, “earthy” way of talking when he’s among friends and close allies. Race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, sexuality, whatever. You name it, if there’s a socially unacceptable word to describe it, his pals say, he’s probably used it.

I’m not saying for sure that the feds have him on tape saying stuff like that, but if they do, there’s no way in heck that Burke wants a Chicago-area jury hearing it. Those words could destroy a defendant. And, of course, few on the other end of any of those conversations want that stuff to come out, either. People might bend over backwards to be helpful if the feds play them those tapes.

The feds, in other words, might very well possess some embarrassing leverage on Burke aside from the alleged illegalities. And the feds love leverage.

They most certainly used leverage against Ald. Solis. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that the feds recorded almost twice as many of Solis’ calls as Burke’s — 18,000 in all. Some of those calls centered around asking a political operative to set up trips to massage parlors, allegedly in exchange for official government acts. Ald. Solis agreed to flip on Burke when confronted with the evidence in 2016.

Being caught on an FBI wiretap doesn’t automatically mean somebody did something wrong. Back in 2017 and then again in 2018, the mere presence of J.B. Pritzker on old FBI wiretaps of Gov. Rod Blagojevich was enough to rattle his gubernatorial campaign to the very bone, even though there was no evidence then or since that he was ever under any sort of investigation.

Pritzker simply called the wrong guy at the wrong time and said some stupid things that wound up being memorialized on a government recording device. But lots of folks jumped to an immediate conclusion that the hint of federal smoke somehow meant the existence of a raging corruption fire. Nothing like that has ever emerged.

We don’t yet know for sure, but the same might be said of what’s being treated by the media as an explosive revelation that an FBI mole recorded a 2014 meeting with Ald. Solis, a Chinatown real estate developer and House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Madigan didn’t say anything illegal on the recording. He was at his law firm’s office and Ald. Solis had brought the developer in to talk about perhaps retaining Madigan’s property tax assessment firm for a hotel the businessman was trying to build. The developer never hired Madigan’s firm and never built the hotel. And all this happened almost five years ago and we haven’t heard anything else since then.

The story does give us an inside peek into how things work in Chicago, however. Madigan’s law office can apparently be an important stop on the path toward getting things done. And while Madigan himself can avoid doing anything overt to help his law firm’s clients outside of property tax appeals, just meeting with Madigan could help those clients check a very important box with other important people like Solis.

Madigan himself could be completely ignorant of why a potential client is in his office. Indeed, it’s almost 100 percent certain he wants it that way. You’d have to be insanely greedy to risk prison over a $3,000 annual property tax retainer.

But Madigan is so powerful that people like Solis want to do whatever they can to get into and remain in his good graces. So, it’s not at all inconceivable that part of an alderman’s process of approving a development could include a meeting at Madigan’s firm to show fealty and offer tribute.

The big question: If Solis wired up on Burke, did he also wire up on Madigan? The House Speaker issued a statement through his attorney admitting he “recalls attending several meetings with Ald. Solis over the past five years, including meetings with individuals in need of legal representation.”

Despite the frothing at the mouth from the usual Madigan haters, we simply have no way of knowing if the feds have any leverage on the guy. Be patient. If they’ve got him, they’ve got him. If they don’t, well, it wouldn’t surprise me.

* Related…

* Madigan under the microscope: Did cautious speaker finally slip on trip wire?: “If people believe this is how powerful he is, people will steer business his way just in the belief that he’ll help them. He doesn’t have to help them there. No quid pro,” Gaines said. “That probably doesn’t really hurt him. That doesn’t really alter his legacy. That’s sort of already common wisdom about him.”

- Posted by Rich Miller        

19 Comments »
  1. - wordslinger - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 9:14 am:

    ==Ald. Burke has a rather, um, “earthy” way of talking when he’s among friends and close allies. Race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, sexuality, whatever. You name it, if there’s a socially unacceptable word to describe it, his pals say, he’s probably used it.–

    Never heard him like that myself, but friends who’ve been in the orbit have expressed shock at the way he talks when he believes he’s in his comfort zone. Drops all the biggies.

    For a guy who’s been so publicly circumspect in trying to build an elder statesman image since Council Wars, it’s pretty surprising that he lets the mask fall.

    In his book, Cooley recounts some such conversations at old Counselors Row.


  2. - Steve - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 9:34 am:

    It’s amazing that Ed Burke didn’t sue Cooley over the book he wrote.

    https://www.amazon.com/When-Corruption-Was-King-Chicago/dp/0786713305/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=


  3. - wordslinger - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 9:45 am:

    –It’s amazing that Ed Burke didn’t sue Cooley over the book he wrote.–

    And go through the discovery process? Not amazing at all.


  4. - 47th Ward - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 9:49 am:

    ===And go through the discovery process?===

    Also, truth is an absolute defense to libel claims and I’m guessing Cooley had that on his side.


  5. - Paddyrollingstone - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 9:54 am:

    I’m not sure how much “truth” there was to Cooley’s book. Reading it, you get the impression that he was one of the best criminal defense lawyers in the City, if not the nation. He was not.


  6. - Steve - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 10:00 am:

    What’s interesting is the federal statutes listed by the FBI in the warrant for Burke’s offices .

    https://nalert.blogspot.com/2019/02/federal-laws-cited-in-alderman-ed-burke_3.html


  7. - wordslinger - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 10:08 am:

    –I’m not sure how much “truth” there was to Cooley’s book. Reading it, you get the impression that he was one of the best criminal defense lawyers in the City, if not the nation. He was not.–

    LOL, how did you land there? He was a bag man, bribing judges. That’s hardly a claim to be a great criminal defense lawyer.


  8. - Anonymous - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 10:17 am:

    “Despite the frothing at the mouth from the usual Madigan haters, we simply have no way of knowing if the feds have any leverage on the guy. Be patient.”

    By and large Madigan haters don’t have the maturity to be patient. They are unable to delay gratification. And a lot of them aren’t smart enough to know being in the General Assembly has nothing to do with local property tax assessment.


  9. - Anonymous - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 10:29 am:

    Nothing except that Mike Madigan determined which candidate for Cook County Assessor received the endorsement of the Democratic Party.


  10. - Chicagonk - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 10:37 am:

    @Anonymous - Acting like Madigan has had no influence over local property tax assessment practices is willful ignorance. The question of whether Madigan did anything illegal is a valid question, but his influence on the both the PTAB and Cook County Assessment system is clear


  11. - Powdered Whig - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 10:43 am:

    ===Nothing except that Mike Madigan determined which candidate for Cook County Assessor received the endorsement of the Democratic Party.===

    Yes - because Mike Madigan is the only Ward or County Committeeman with a vote in the slating process.


  12. - Annonin' - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 10:53 am:

    we simply have no way of knowing if the feds have any leverage on the guy”
    Apparently snoozed through the TIm Novack interview where said the Sun Times had published everything in the affidavit about Madigan.
    Some have read this to mean nothin’ plus nothin’ is nothin’


  13. - DuPage - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 11:18 am:

    ===Ald. Burke has a rather, um, “earthy” way of talking when he’s among friends and close allies. Race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, sexuality, whatever. You name it, if there’s a socially unacceptable word to describe it, his pals say, he’s probably used it.===

    Pretty much everyone has a different vocabulary selection depending on who they are talking to. I know a few local public officials (along with most people)that use a little salty language in private conversations. I’ve heard Rauner called “Governor(bleep-bleep-bleep!)”. But woe to any politicians who let the wrong word slip in public or near a live microphone. To be safe, they should always talk only with words acceptable to “audiences of all ages”.


  14. - Paddyrollingstone - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 11:22 am:

    WS - it’s been a long time since I’ve read Cooley’s book, but I do recall it was a point of great pride of his that he was a fantastic trial lawyer and didn’t really need be bribing judges. That’s what stuck with me after reading it.


  15. - "Old Timer Dem" - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 12:06 pm:

    I read Cooley’s book years ago. The book was self serving to say the least. He was mobbed up and probably stepped in some doo doo and wanted to go into hiding. Zebra’s don’t change their stripes. Neither did Cooley.


  16. - Three Dimensional Checkers - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 1:10 pm:

    == Zebras don’t change their stripes.==

    Yeah, Burke is apparently the same person he was during the Council Wars. Who would’ve thunk it?


  17. - Levois - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 1:21 pm:

    Well, I read a headline that the “Chicago way” is dying. It might be on the ropes, however, I doubt it’ll ever truly die….


  18. - NoGifts - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 2:36 pm:

    It’s not dying because it isn’t the Chicago way. It’s the political way and you’ll find it in cities large and small, all over the world.


  19. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Feb 5, 19 @ 11:35 am:

    “ Acting like Madigan has had no influence over local property tax assessment practices is willful ignorance.”

    Acting like Madigan has no enemies is willful ignorance. You aren’t aware that everyone’s property tax payments are online? And if there was a pattern of his clients and only his clients paying significantly less, his enemies would be on him like white on rice.


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