Ex-Ald. Edward Burke resigns from Union League Club, scene of key meeting in corruption case

Former Chicago Ald. Edward Burke has resigned his membership at the Union League Club, the stately downtown institution that both reflected Burke’s old-school proclivities and served as the setting for an alleged shakedown in the corruption investigation that ended his 54-year political career.

Burke, who joined the Union League Club on West Jackson Boulevard in the mid-1970s and was one of its most high-profile members, officially had his resignation accepted by the club’s admissions committee on Tuesday, according to a member who requested anonymity.

Jeffrey Gray, the club’s director of public affairs, said Wednesday he could not confirm or deny whether Burke had resigned.

“We don’t talk about our members,” he said. “They have a right to privacy.”

Burke, 80, was convicted in December of racketeering conspiracy, federal program bribery, attempted extortion, conspiracy to commit extortion and using interstate commerce to facilitate an unlawful activity.

U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall is scheduled to sentence him in June.

The resignation marks a continuation of Burke’s fall from grace and withdrawal from public life. He stepped down from the 14th Ward City Council seat he’d held since 1968 in April 2023, just months before his trial.

Earlier this year, Burke voluntarily retired from practicing law after a majority of the Illinois Supreme Court recused themselves from taking up the issue of suspending his law license due to conflicts of interest.

The reasons for Burke’s resignation from the Union League Club were not given. But among the stated goals in the club’s bylaws are to “resist and oppose corruption” and “secure honesty and efficiency in the administration” of governmental affairs.

The Chicago chapter of the Union League Club was founded in 1879 and currently describes itself as one of the city’s premier private social clubs for professionals, wine enthusiasts, art lovers and “wellness seekers.”

“Whether you are looking for a working space, a place to meet new people or social and educational experiences, being a member at the Union League Club of Chicago means being part of something bigger than yourself,” the club’s web site states.

The Chicago Tribune has referred to the club as the city’s “other” Art Institute due to its extensive collection of original art, which ranges from Kerry James Marshall to Claude Monet.

Burke and his wife, former Illinois Supreme Court Justice Ann Burke, were stalwarts at the club for years, and he often hosted both private and public gatherings there, including breakfasts with other leaders that were regular fodder for Chicago’s political gossip pages.

That presence continued right through his trial, as the Burkes spent some lunch hours and waited out lengthy court delays at the club while their driver had their SUV — with vanity 14th Ward plates — double-parked on Jackson.

The club also featured prominently in one of the key episodes in the case: as the scene of a Dec. 12, 2017, meeting between Burke and the father-and-son owners of a Burger King that was being renovated in Burke’s ward.

According to the indictment, the meeting took place after Burke had ordered the renovation work halted as part of a scheme to shake down the owners, Shoukat and Zohaib Dhanani, for business for his private property tax law firm.

The Dhananis testified that Burke was cordial during the Union League Club meeting, drinking rum and regaling them with the club’s history, including the art hanging in the atrium. Zohaib Dhanani was so impressed, in fact, he later asked staff about becoming a member and told his father they should buy Burke a “nice bottle of rum,” according to testimony.

Zohaib Dhanani testified that during the meeting, Burke brought up the fact that “nobody from our office had reached out to him or his office about the property tax reduction work.”

Asked how Burke’s request made him feel, Dhanani said, “To me, it wasn’t my realm so I didn’t really have strong feelings either way.” But he also said the whole experience was “unusual.”

At the Union League Club meeting, Burke also invited the Dhananis to attend an upcoming fundraiser at his home for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who at the time was running to replace outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Shoukat Dhanani said he initially had no interest in attending the fundraiser, but they told Burke they’d go “to be cordial.”

On cross-examination, though, Dhanani agreed that he was interested in rubbing elbows with some of Chicago’s movers and shakers. At the time, his interest had also been piqued by Burke’s mention of a lucrative opportunity to open up Burger Kings at Midway Airport.

Ultimately, however, bad weather stymied the trip, and instead they donated $10,000 to Preckwinkle’s campaign — a contribution that was later returned.

Prosecutors painted the episode as another example of Burke as an old-school politician getting someone with business at City Hall to do his bidding.

But Burke’s lawyer, Joseph Duffy, told the jury the Union League Club meeting was just a meet-and-greet.

“They were in a festive mood,” Duffy said in his closing argument. “They were at a Christmas party. Can you imagine somebody is going to shake you down and you’re going to sit with them for 90 minutes? Use your common sense.”