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The honeymoon won’t last, Mayor Lightfoot

By Ray Hanania

In Russia or China, where justice is less about law and more about politics and tyranny, those accused of crimes are denied the right to defend themselves. They are punished.

But in America, people are innocent until proven guilty. That’s why I served during the Vietnam War, why my father and uncle served during World War II, and why hundreds of thousands of Americans sacrificed their lives to defend our democracy.

With all due respect, and I mean this genuinely, Madam Mayor Lightfoot, don’t rush to judgment and circumvent the very system that allowed you to become mayor. Don’t undermine the system of jurisprudence that you embraced for most of your career.

Ald. Edward M. Burke is innocent until proven guilty.

Burke has represented the constituents of the 14th Ward since 1969. He was elected exactly 50 years ago, a half century of representation, for a ward that consists of nearly 60,000 residents.

I haven’t always agreed with Alderman Burke, but I believe he is genuinely a good person. In 50 years of public service, especially in Chicago, you can expect that nearly everyone will come under criticism, attack and even occasionally the target of federal indictment.

Burke, 75, has been indicted on charges of racketeering. Wiretapped by another alderman accused of corruption, Danny Solis, Burke is accused of using his office to steer business to his law firm. The accusation is not a court judgment that Burke deserves.

That’s what makes this country different from Russia and China. That’s why so many Americans sacrificed their lives to defend our democracy, to ensure people are not persecuted for reasons that include politics.

The news media cheered with you reprimanded Burke for challenging your use of gender specific nouns in your Council reorganization, chiding his points as worthless and calling his concerns “laughable” and a “stunt.” The media loved it.

But just remember. You are in the honeymoon right now. Every mayor begins that way. They sang hallelujahs when you called for Burke’s resignation.

The news media is a double-edged sword of hypocrisy. During your honeymoon, the news media will suck up to you, kiss your ring and shower you with excessive hosannas. They will cheer when you denounce Chicago Machine politics and practices and close their eyes as you use your own Machine-type powers to install your friends and allies to run your City Council, and punish your critics, like Aldermen Beale and Carrie Austin.

I covered seven mayors as a City Hall reporter, from Daley to Daley. I know one certainty. One truth. One reality. As fast as the media showers you with praise, they will flip on a dime, criticize you and put your decisions through the same ringer that they judge Burke.

You can be one of Chicago’s great leaders, Madam Mayor Lightfoot. You are certainly better than the mayor you replaced. Rahm Emanuel used his office to marginalize and demean Arab Americans while the mainstream news media turned away and refused to challenge his racist, despicable conduct.

Burke was elected alderman by a majority of his 14th Ward voters. If Burke should resign, it should be by their judgment, not by you or by the hypocritical news media.

For the media, you are little more than front page headline. The media lives for that screaming headline. It won’t matter if the headline screams for Burke or one day screams for you. American journalism does not thrive by reporting on “good stories.” They don’t strut by detailing honesty, goodness or by cheering on a new mayor with praise, accolades and acclaim.

Enjoy the honeymoon, Madam Mayor Lightfoot. But don’t think it will last. Take on corruption. Detail your ideas to fight street gangs and make Chicago safe. But at the same time, stand up for the rule of law and the principle that people are innocent until proven guilty.

“If it bleeds, it leads.” That is their mantra. You can be certain the same unfair judgments they use to turn Burke into a front page headline, will one day be turned on you. The media will come after you with a vengeance, as they have done for every mayor. Don’t pander to their drive for ugly headlines by joining in the tar and feathering of an alderman who for 50 years has been loved and admired by his constituents.

It’s easy to denounce an alderman who has stumbled. It’s hard, however, to do the right thing regardless of popularity or politics. If you can do that, you will be Chicago’s greatest mayor.

(Ray Hanania is an award-winning syndicated columnist who covered Chicago City Hall for nearly two decades “from Daley to Daley.” Read more of his columns and download his podcasts by visiting Hanania.com. Email him at [email protected])

Ray Hanania’s column is just a fraction of the content that appears in this week’s print edition of the Southwest News-Herald. Want to get the all the news? Pick up the Southwest News-Herald on local newsstands for just 75 cents a copy. For greater savings and convenience, call (708) 496-0265 during weekday business hours and order a subscription by mail, delivered each week to your home or business.

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