Way to Go Ed Burke
To one of Chicago’s most powerful politicians, Saul Rodriguez was just another young real-estate developer. Rodriguez, then only 24, wanted to build five condominium buildings in Ald. Ed Burke’s 14th Ward in 1999. So he hired William Barbaro Construction, whose owner, William Barbaro, was a regular contributor to the campaign funds of Burke and then-Ald. William Banks (36th), head of the City Council’s zoning committee at the time.
In July 1999, Rodriguez applied for the zoning change he needed for the project. City planners objected, questioning the proposed increase in residential density of the Southwest Side neighborhood. But as the alderman for the ward, Burke all but had the final say, according to City Council tradition, and he gave the go-ahead. In early 2000, the City Council’s zoning committee and then the full council approved the project.
Rodriguez built five two-story buildings on the south side of the street in the 2700 block of West 37th Place in Brighton Park. He estimated each building would cost $190,000. One factor Burke says he didn’t know at the time: Rodriguez was a reputed narcotics trafficker.
Burke may not have know diddly-squat, but he knew not to ask the right questions, that's for sure. And he's a clue for any newbie reporters skimming through the Chicago political sewers - 99.9% of any zoning change in the city of Chicago probably involves a payoff, a connected construction firm and a whole lot of winking and nodding. Investigate that why don't you?
UPDATE: See post for 19 January