Meet the Chicago Pol Behind So Many Food Regulations, Alderman Ed Burke

Alderman Edward M. Burke.
Alderman Edward M. Burke.

If you’ve heard of Alderman Ed Burke, it’s probably because of one of the ways that aldermen in Chicago seem vaguely quirky, comical figures— his resolution exonerating Mrs. O’Leary and her cow, or the fact that he apparently lives in a Humphrey Bogart movie in his head (he’s a gun-licensed private eye with a phalanx of police bodyguards at taxpayer expense, despite the fact that he’s never been a target of anything or anybody). But Burke, the longest-serving and perhaps most powerful alderman in modern history, is also a prime example of the kind of politician who, faced with real problems in a city, goes right past them to look for non-problems that can be legislated in the food world. As the libertarian magazine Reason reports, trans fats, the foie gras ban, energy drinks— if there’s a hot topic related to people’s health, Burke can be counted on to consider it vital that Chicago’s City Council act on it. Even if, a few years later, he considers it even more vital to his own health to follow the mayor’s orders on overturning it, as happened with the foie gras ban.

His newest crusade is the menace of deadly energy drinks:

On an ounce for ounce basis, popular energy drinks often contain much less caffeine than coffee and other, more genteel beverages. An 8.5 ounce can of Red Bull, for example, contains 80 mg of caffeine. That’s 100 mg less than a comparable (short) cup of Starbucks coffee, which boasts 180 mg of caffeine.

So why didn’t Burke propose to ban coffee? Here’s one hint: Burke apparently likes coffee.