Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Chicago's past is on line 2, eager to gum the wounded Ed Burke

     "Is this Robert Cooley?"
     "That was one of my many, many names," said the man on the phone.
     Not a good start. I never watched "The Sopranos," never romanticized the Capone era. It was brutal and bloody. There was something sad about my older colleagues who, you could tell, got a contact high from their association with gangland Chicago, basked in coining nicknames and listing aliases.
     And now I've got The Man of A Thousand Faces on the line...
     Since most won't remember, a quick refresher: It was Cooley who in 1986 went to the feds and began taping conversations at the Counsellors Row restaurant, an ice pick to the heart of the mobbed-up 1st Ward. This led to the Justice Department`s Operation Gambat, flipping over a rock of extortion, bribery and fixed murder cases.
     A reader took issue with my describing Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke as "the platinum bar of probity" and shared passages from Cooley's book, "When Corruption Was King," painting the Burkes as, well, if not quite Bonnie & Clyde, then in that direction of the moral spectrum. Active carnivores in the fetid swamp of early 1980s Chicago.
     I told Cooley I was all ears.
   "These things happened 20, 25 years ago," he began, shaving off a decade. "Eddie Burke and his wife Anne were very good friends of mine."
     Based on our conversation, my hunch is they aren't friends any more.
     Corruption is like rust. It spreads, both coming and going. When the party's on and the lights are low, lots of people wander into the dim tent to help themselves at the long tables of pie. When the lights are snapped on, those same people are caught standing there with pie on their faces. It's almost comical to see the casting call of mayoral candidates lunging for napkins to smear away Ed Burke's money, or try to. It'll be interesting to see how long that stain lingers around their mouths.  
     Talking to Cooley, I realized the Ed Burke extortion case will not only send shock waves through the current political scene; it also will crack open the past, and out will crawl denizens of the Mesozoic such as Robert Cooley.
     Talking to him was like listening to a record. I would try to direct the conversation, ask questions. That was like lifting the needle. The music stopped. There was a silence. Then the needle was set down again and he'd continue where we left off. Nor was what he was saying a font of fascination.

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  1. Well done, especially in noting the irony of the purity of "corruption", the word. That observation, coincidentally, echoes the Dante post that's sandwiched between these two Burke posts. Thanks.

  2. So, someone else was annoyed at your description of the thoroughly corrupt Anne Burke?
    All you have to do is look at her rotten voting patterns on laws to alter the out of control pensions in Illinois & you know she's no damn good!

  3. Interesting portrait of an old guy unwilling to accept the adage "Used to be is like never was."


  4. I don't know Ed Burke and don't want to. But I did hear him say he's been investigated before and he's certain he's done nothing illegal. Not the same as having done nothing wrong of course. I imagine he has a good grasp of the law what with crafting some of the ones that help line his pockets.

    I am surprised at the shade being thrown his wife's way. Corrupt judges? Corrupt state supreme Court judges?

    Shocking just shocking! Been in Chicago my whole life still can't get used to it.

  5. I think you have to either be a native Chicagoan, or at least have spent a lot of years of your life here, in order to romanticize what we locals called the Syndicate or the Mob, sometimes "The Boys." I was fascinated by the Capone era. There was a big Twenties revival for a few years in the late Fifties...which was one of the reasons for the huge popularity of "The Untouchables" nationwide...but there was plenty of local pride as well. The Cubs may have stunk, but Chicagoans knew that our town had some of the heaviest hitters...wink, nudge.

    I bunked next to a kid at summer camp whose father was one of them. The kid threatened to have me whacked. We were twelve. That same summer, my dad got into the habit of pointing out Mob was where St. Valentine's Day went down, and there was Al's headquarters in Cicero. My connected uncle was able to get his son's songs onto local jukeboxes and aired on AM radio, but alas, even that kind of clout could not advance my older cousin's musical career--a Jewish Elvis, he was not.

    But my father had no desire to emulate his older brother. Fascination with gangsters (I knew their names and nicknames better than I knew those of ballplayers) disgusted him. "Gangsters are scum," he told me. "I've helped put them away." Since we weren't wearing cement shoes, I sneered my best teen-age sneer at him.

    It wasn't until after he died, decades later, that I found his old credentials in his drawer. In the early Sixties he had been deputized as a forensic accountant by the Treasury Department, and had given testimony in Federal court. He hadn't made anything up. But I still enjoy mob movies. Once a Chicago boy, always a Chicago boy.


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