Former Field Museum director describes perceived threat during ex-Ald. Ed Burke Chicago trial

Proceedings needed to be paused at one point when dog became ill

Sarah Schulte Image
Tuesday, November 21, 2023
Former Field Museum director describes perceived threat in Burke trial
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A former Field Museum director described a perceived threat during ex-Alderman Ed Burke's trial, and a dog disrupted proceedings.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Testimony Monday in the corruption trial of former Chicago Alderman Ed Burke surrounded the onetime powerful politician's alleged interactions involving the Field Museum.

Burke's power was so potent, it had Field Museum officials scrambling to make it up to him because they had dropped the ball on an internship application from the former alderman's goddaughter.

Burke's anger played out during a terse phone call between him and Deborah Bekken, a former museum director of government affairs. The call was secretly recorded by the FBI.

Bekken testified the museum was seeking approval from the Park District Board for an admissions price increase in 2017. Because Burke had publicly objected to increases for other Chicago museums in the past, the Field Museum thought it would be helpful to give Burke a "heads up" before a Park District vote.

During her conversation with Burke, Bekken was caught off-guard when he angrily brought up the internship issue, something Bekken didn't know about.

In a gruff voice, Burke said, "So now, you're going to make a request of me?"

SEE MORE: Ed Burke trial gets underway with 1st witness describing former alderman's massive power

Bekken tried to answer before Burke cut her off, and said if the chairman of the Committee of Finance calls the president of the Park District, "your proposal is going nowhere."

Bekken told jurors "I perceived it as a threat."

Bekken said she and other museum officials were so worried about the internship situation with Burke, they talked about coming up with a mea culpa prize for him, but nothing transpired.

The Park District approved the Field Museum's request for a fee price increase, but, even after the fact, Bekken said museum officials were still concerned about Burke's support.

However, under cross-examination, Bekken admitted Burke never mentioned on the call he was concerned about a Field Museum price increase nor had he voiced concerns about it in the past.

At one point Monday, proceedings needed to be paused.

Federal Judge Virginia Kendall takes care of two comfort dogs, and sometimes brings them into the courtroom.

One of those Bernese Mountain dogs, who was behind the judge, got up in the middle of the hearing and became ill.

There was a brief recess during the incident.