City Cast

How Ed Burke Rose to — and Fell From — Power in Chicago

Sidney Madden
Sidney Madden
Posted on November 6   |   Updated on November 7
Ed Burke listens during a City Council meeting City Hall March 15

Ed Burke listens during a City Council meeting City Hall March 15. (Tribune / Getty)

Former Ald. Ed Burke served 54 years — the longest of any Chicago City Council member — before he opted not to run in this year’s election.

Here’s what you need to know about the indicted former 14th Ward alder’s rise and fall ahead of his federal corruption trial today.

Why is Burke on Trial?

Burke faces a 14-count indictment alleging he repeatedly used elected office to try to force people doing business with City Hall to use his private law firm, WTTW’s Heather Cherone told the City Cast Chicago podcast.

The FBI searched former 14th Ward Ald. Ed Burke’s Southwest Side office in 2018.

The FBI searched former 14th Ward Ald. Ed Burke’s Southwest Side office in 2018. (Scott Olson / Getty)

How Did Burke Rise to, Fall From Power?

The Tribune highlighted watershed moments in Burke’s career.

Late ‘60s

Burke’s dad, Joseph, was the alder of the Southwest Side ward until he died of lung cancer. That’s when 26-year-old Burke was appointed to be the 14th Ward’s Democratic committeeperson. He later won a special election for the City Council seat.


Burke and 10th Ward Ald. Ed Vrdolyak became known as the Young Turks who looked for ways to seize power. It was also in this decade Burke opposed nudity in massage parlors and pinball machines.


Burke ran for Cook County state’s attorney and lost to future Mayor Richard M. Daley.


After Harold Washington won the mayor’s race, Burke and Vrdolyak led a charge of 29 white alders in the “Council Wars,” opposing the city’s first Black mayor.

Late ‘80s

Following Washington’s sudden death, Burke ran for mayor, only to lose again to Daley. He became finance committee chair and served for decades.


The FBI raided Burke’s City Hall and ward office and left with boxes of evidence.


Burke was indicted on 14 criminal charges including racketeering, bribery, and attempted extortion. Burke won his bid for his 14th term in office.


With a perfect City Council attendance record and landmark legislation under his belt like an indoor public smoking ban and the city’s carbon monoxide detector mandate, Burke did not run for office again before his trial.

What’s Next?

Following recent convictions against former Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson and the "ComEd Four," it's now up to a jury to decide if Burke's dealings were politics as usual or corruption.

Sheesh, you think the Dirksen Federal Courthouse will loan out its therapy dogs to the public?

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