CHICAGO — After retiring as Chicago’s deputy city clerk, state Rep. Daniel J. Burke found another way to make money.
Lobbying the city.
“I had an opportunity to help businesses engage with the City of Chicago,” says Burke, the younger brother of Chicago’s most powerful alderman, Edward M. Burke.
It might seem like the kind of situation that could be fraught with the potential for conflicts of interest. But the city allows former city officials to return to lobby City Hall as long they’ve been gone for at least a year.
Burke, 58, is one of several elected officials in the Chicago area who also work as lobbyists. He says he sees nothing wrong with lobbying his former colleagues at City Hall to hire his clients. But because he is still a member of the Illinois Legislature, he says, he chose not to personally “engage in anything that had anything to do with” state government, leaving that to his business partner.
Burke began collecting his pension from City Hall in March 2004 and now gets $68,828 a year. That’s on top of the $85,903 a year he makes as a state legislator.
Still, a few months after he started collecting his city pension, Burke began lobbying for a few clients at City Hall.
A year after he picked up his first pension check, he set up Burke Cornell Consulting Co. with businessman and former Florida cop Terry Cornell Jr. as his partner. They set up the lobbying firm at 2650 W. 51st St. in Gage Park on the Southwest Side. It’s the same building where Burke and his brother also have their government offices. He says there never was any danger that Illinois taxpayers might somehow end up picking up the rent for his lobbying business because his landlord — his brother, the alderman — doesn’t charge him to lease his state office.
“No state dollars have ever paid for my operation of the state office,” Dan Burke says.
Records show Burke Cornell Consulting has represented 10 companies seeking business from the City of Chicago. And Burke and Cornell have been paid more than $310,000 for their lobbying services since April 2005, according to records they’ve filed with the city.
One client is a start-up developer called Diverse Development. Its owners — Steven Cotsirilos of Wilmette and Keith Moll of Grayslake — were new to the business but looking for the chance to build homes on city-owned lots in West Englewood.
They hired Burke Cornell — and wound up getting $1.4 million in city financing to build 23 homes in the South Side neighborhood through Mayor Daley’s “New Homes for Chicago” program.
The City Council — Burke’s brother included — approved the deal last July 29.
Cotsirilos and Moll won’t get any money from the city until construction begins. It hasn’t yet because they haven’t found anyone who qualifies, under the city’s guidelines, to buy one of the three-bedroom homes, which they must sell for $185,000, with buyers eligible for subsidies of as much as $60,000, depending on their income.
Cotsirilos and Moll have told city officials they expect to make more than $400,000 in developer fees.
They’ve paid Dan Burke and Cornell $70,000 for their work, city records show.
“I would be the first — and maybe the loudest — to say there’s a great need for decent and affordable housing for the community,” Burke says. “I did what I did for that company and brought them to the game. … They paid me for my area of expertise. I was a private consultant. It wasn’t excessive.”
Neither Cornell nor Ed Burke responded to interview requests.
Cornell is an ally of ex-U.S. Rep. William Lipinski. The former Southwest Side congressman once helped Cornell get a state job as a parole supervisor under former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, state records show.
Burke and Cornell are still registered lobbyists for a half dozen companies, according to City Hall’s Board of Ethics. But Burke says he stopped lobbying about a year ago, when he split with Cornell, who at one time was an executive with Chicago’s Intercounty National Title Co., where other top officials went to prison for stealing millions from the company.
“I’ve been out of business for about a year,” Burke says of lobbying.
He says that’s because he was “too busy in my campaign” to win re-election to the Illinois House. It was a tough race for Burke, who previously had faced no Democratic primary opposition since first being elected to the Legislature in 1990. This year, though, three Hispanic candidates challenged Burke to represent the predominantly Hispanic legislative district. Burke beat back a strong challenge from one of them, Rudy Lozano Jr., in the Feb. 2 primary.
Other Burke Cornell lobbying clients have included:
- Earthlink, the Internet service, which wanted a city contract to provide wireless Internet service throughout Chicago. Earthlink had paid Burke Cornell $130,000 by the time City Hall abandoned plans two years ago to provide citywide Wi-Fi service.
- Concourse Communications, which won a contract five years ago to provide wireless Internet service at O’Hare Airport. It paid Burke Cornell $30,000 in lobbying fees. Concourse Communications’ owners include Cardinal Growth, a venture capital firm owned by the mayor’s friend Robert Bobb. The mayor’s son Patrick Daley worked for Cardinal Growth at the time.
- Elite Electric Co. of Melrose Park, which paid the lobbyists $25,000 in fees. The company has no contracts with City Hall.
- ADP, the payroll-processing company, which paid Burke Cornell $16,500 to lobby the city’s procurement department last year.