Thursday, June 30, 2011

Bodyguards a relic of what we once were

Perhaps it is all too appropriate that the issue of Fourteenth Ward Alderman Edward Burke and his bodyguards lingers over us.
BURKE: A Council Wars remnant?

The fact that he has a four-person security detail full-time is a remnant of the “Council Wars” of old, when racial tensions turned our local politics into a verbal brawl that some feared could get physical.

SOME PEOPLE SEEM a little too eager to claim that this latest municipal election cycle is one where we no longer care about race – as though such considerations are irrelevant. Almost like they never mattered.

But they did.

Burke got those bodyguards for as long as he serves as finance chairman of the City Council because he was able to convince a judge back in the mid-1980s that HIS life would be at risk because of all those baaad people who would do him harm.

Not that anyone ever tried to do anything to “Flashy Eddie.” But what cracks me up about the idea of Burke needing bodyguards is that the reason there was tension back in the mid-1980s was largely BECAUSE of Burke, who along with “Fast Eddie” Vrdolyak led the open revolt of a 29-member Council majority against then-Mayor Harold Washington.

THEY WERE ABLE to do so because they sensed the hostility much of Chicago felt toward the idea of an African-American person being elected mayor was so intense that many people would not object to their behavior.

If anything, the person who was the target of hostility was Washington himself, NOT Burke. Not that anyone ever went so far as to try to harm the mayor back then.
WASHINGTON: He really needed them

But if they had, it likely would have been because they felt motivated by the rancid rhetoric that used to come from the mouth of people like Burke. I’m not saying that Burke went so far as to call for bodily harm to befall Harold Washington.

But there would have been many Burke supporters back then who would not have been the least bit upset if something bad had happened to Harold.

NOW I AM not writing this commentary to engage in a two-and-a-half decades after the fact attack on Burke. I realize that time passes, and we all have to move on. I also realize that Burke himself throughout the years has made statements acknowledging how out-of-line much of his own political behavior was back in those years when Aaron Freeman turned our municipal government into a Star Wars parody that was all-too-accurate in its humor.

But to read from the court order that demanded that Burke have his own security detail, similar to that of the mayor himself, is just too bizarre if one does not have the proper historic context in their minds.

And the sad part of Richard M. Daley managing to serve as mayor for as long as he did is that there are too many otherwise-knowledgeable political people who came of age AFTER the Washington/Sawyer years.

They think the Daley way is the ONLY way that Chicago operates.

THEY HAVE FALLEN into this image of Burke as an elder statesman; the guy who likes to make long, rambling statements that manage to incorporate obscure details of Chicago history on just about every issue.

Perhaps they go along with the mentality that somehow, Burke is as important as any mayor and ought to have the same security detail. A part of me seriously wonders if the reason he wanted it back in the mid-1980s was to create the impression that he was a Washington equal – instead of just one of 50 alderman, compared to a single chief executive, for city government.

Then again, when that court order was signed that requires Burke to have the security detail so long  as he remains finance chairman, who would have thought that he’d still be going strong this deep into the 21st Century.

For that fact, who’d have thought he’d still be an elected official for many years beyond the 1980s?

THIS COURT ORDER is one of those legal documents with aftereffects that linger well beyond the period of time when they might have been necessary.

So would it be nice if Burke were to have enough decency to realize the time in which he might have been able to justify city expense to maintain his security detail has come and gone?

It would be. Not that I expect he will.

For Burke is an elected official. He has just as much of an ego as any other. I’m sure that after nearly 25 years, having four men who otherwise would be patrolling the streets as police officers on hand feels like second nature.

MAYBE THOSE OFFICERS even feel like part of the extended family to Burke and his wife, Anne, the Illinois Supreme Court justice (who, if you want to know the truth, strikes me as needing a security detail far more than any alderman does).

He’s not about to give up a “family” member any time soon. Which means we, the people of Chicago, will be stuck with this remnant of Council Wars for the immediate future.


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