Alderman Ed Burke acknowledges the existence of a mere mortal

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Alderman Ed Burke
  • Alderman Ed Burke
Not long before aldermen approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel's new protest regulations last week, Burt Natarus was wandering the hallways behind council chambers in search of someone interested in a little political history.

"Sometimes I don't think anyone gives a shit," he said.

Natarus served as alderman of the 42nd Ward from 1971 to 2007. Natarus has always been a sociable, creative soul, and on this occasion he was bearded and wearing heavy boots and a wooly acrylic jacket, as if he could have arrived straight from a hunting expedition in the north woods.

I'd spoken with him just a few days earlier for my profile of Alderman Walter Burnett Jr., and apparently the topic of patronage-era ward politics was still on his mind. Without prompting or introduction, Natarus approached me and several other reporters and began explaining how he and former Cook County Board president George Dunne "discovered" Burnett's mentor, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White.

"This was the early 1970s. He was a school teacher back then, and we thought he could run for state representative, and George Dunne had a very good relationship with Afro Americans, you see ... "

Natarus interrupted himself as council dean Ed Burke paraded by in his usual manner—without so much as a glance our way, his shoulders back, his gaze fixed on something far ahead, something loftier than us and perhaps even loftier than the agenda for the next meeting of the finance committee. He was followed by a bodyguard wearing a dark suit and an earpiece.

For a moment, Natarus looked happy to see him. "Hello, Eddie!"

Burke didn't break stride.

Natarus watched him for a moment. "He really thinks he's something, doesn't he?"

Without waiting for an answer, he resumed his story. "So Jesse lost, but George Dunne was very loyal. He said, 'Go back and teach for two years and we'll run again ...'"

It's not often that Burke wastes a step, but somehow he must have been turned around, because there he was again, marching briskly toward us with his stone-faced bodyguard precisely a step and a half behind him.

Natarus didn't notice at first. "So Jesse White runs again and this time we won. He's one of the best campaigners I've ever seen. He connects with everyone. I'm telling you, he comes over to the Gold Coast and people there think he's white, they really do—"

Burke had almost filed past us again when Natarus abruptly called after him: "Eddie, Eddie, why are you so unfriendly?"

The finance committee chairman stopped in his tracks. He slowly turned around—but only halfway. Without acknowledging the rest of us, he peered down at Natarus.

"Hello, Burt," he said. "What is it?"

Natarus followed him out of the room.

Read more from Alderman Week:

"Alderman Ed Burke acknowledges the existence of a mere mortal," by Mick Dumke

"Chicago's 50 wards—the jigsaw version," by Ben Joravsky

"Good old Joe," by Kate Schmidt

"Oh, to have those fighting independents back," by Steve Bogira

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