In the aftermath of a federal attempted extortion charge against Ald. Edward Burke — allegedly for trying to shake down owners of a Burger King restaurant who were seeking city remodeling permits — Mayor Rahm Emanuel wanted everyone to know reform is on its way.
With all that light coming in, people might get the impression that Burke until now has operated mostly in the dark. But that’s hardly the case.
For years, no one has needed a flashlight, much less a floodlight, to spot the ethical problems that followed Burke like a shadow. There the problems were, before our very eyes, hiding in plain sight. What Burke did is a big scandal, but it’s a broader public shame that we have abided conflicts like Burke’s, and done little to stop them, for many costly years.
Burke’s multiple conflicts of interest were tolerated for decades by mayors, voters, council members, reporters and even good-government advocates. And that’s because — well, that’s just the way it has been. The Chicago way.
David Greising is the president and chief executive of the Better Government Association, joining the BGA in 2018. For nearly a century, the BGA has fought for honest and effective government through investigative journalism and policy advocacy.
Greising’s career started at the City News Bureau of Chicago, with stops at the Chicago Sun-Times, Business Week magazine, the Chicago Tribune and Reuters. He was a co-founder of the Chicago News Cooperative and worked briefly as a consultant to World Business Chicago. Today, Greising writes on government issues in regular columns for the Tribune and Crain’s Chicago Business.
Under Greising’s leadership, the BGA has played a key role in uncovering public corruption amidst the wide-ranging federal probe, starting with an in-depth report about Ald. Ed Burke’s conflicts of interest before the federal charges against Burke. The BGA also has exposed waste and fraud at O’Hare and the proliferation of corruption and poverty into Dolton, Lyons and other Chicago suburbs. The BGA’s policy team has led calls for ethics reform in Chicago’s City Council and in state government.