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.

The mayor told reporters a “high-voltage spotlight” would shine on the city’s handling of zoning changes and building permits. He also promised a “floodlight of transparency.”

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.

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David Greising

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...