Walter Burnett, Jr.

D.O.B. - August 16, 1963

Chicago, 27th Ward Alderman (1995-)
Chicago, 27th Ward Democratic Committeeperson (2013-)

East Garfield Park, Near North Side, West Loop, Greektown, Old Town, West Humboldt Park, West Town and Goose Island
27th Ward Map - City Ward Map

Walter Burnett, Jr., was raised in the infamous Cabrini-Green public housing complex, a childhood he still speaks fondly of despite the violence and other traumas he recalls experiencing there. His father was an assistant precinct captain under 42nd Ward Committeeman and Cook County Democratic Chairman George Dunne. In his late teens, Burnett served two years in prison for bank robbery, for which he was pardoned in 1998 by then-Gov. Jim Edgar. He received an associate's degree in political science and a certificate in drafting while in jail then went on to attend Loop (now Harold Washington) College, UIC Chicago, and Northeastern Illinois University (which he attended while alderman). He started his political career working for Dunne and with the Young Democrats of Cook County in 1989.

Burnett also spent 11years working in Cook County government as special assistant to then-Recorder of Deeds Jesse White, another 42nd Ward scion. He went on to run White’s successful 1998 Secretary of State campaign. White, who later became Illinois Secretary of State, helped Burnett gain a pardon for his robbery felony ahead of Burnett's first reelection. His wife, Darlena Williams-Burnett, a former deputy Recorder of Deeds, also briefly served as a Cook County Commissioner, the 7th District State Central Committeewoman, and ran against Cong. Danny Davis during the 2010 primary.

Aided by White's significant control of state jobs, and the ability to raise significant funds in his fast-gentrifying ward, Burnett's political organization has been a significant force on Chicago's West and Near North Sides for in recent election cycles. The 27th Ward has also changed significantly over the last ten years, becoming much whiter and affluent than it once was. Burnett's campaign coffers have benefited from explosive development in his ward, including the booming Fulton Market area. As a result, he has become one of the best fundraisers in Council.

Now the third-longest tenured member of the City Council, Burnett has maintained a position of heavy influence in part by working closely with all three mayors he has served under, practicing a transactional brand of governance designed to score wins for his constituents. The famously candid alderman explained his philosophy to WBEZ in 2017, saying that he voted almost exclusively in line with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s agenda because he knew he had pull to influence Emanuel’s agenda in private.

Burnett has left a deep imprint on city housing policy by helping guide the creation of the 2007 Affordable Requirements Ordinance, and he was in the driver’s seat for major revisions to the ordinance in 2015, 2017 and 2021. Burnett has bragged about “doing ARO in my ward before there was an ARO,” recounting his long tradition of prodding developers to include affordable units as a condition for his blessing of a zoning change. The practice is a vivid illustration of Burnett’s deal-making approach to policy, his commitment to maintaining affordability in his gentrifying ward and his bone-deep belief that “aldermanic privilege” should guide local decisions.

Current Chicago City Council Committees:

Important Political Events

  • 1995, Elected Alderman of 27th Ward, defeating Dexter Watson
  • 2013, Appointed 27th Ward Democratic Committeeman by precinct captains, replacing Jesse White

Dick Simpson “Rubber Stamp” scores:

  • 2017-2018 — 97 percent
  • 2019-2020 — 100 percent

Campaign committee(s):

Friends of Walter Burnett, Jr


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