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Eliot Ness Should Be 'Untouchable' Name for ATF Headquarters, Aldermen Say

By Quinn Ford | January 15, 2014 4:28pm
 Eliot Ness
Eliot Ness
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CITY HALL — Two aldermen are asking the City Council to take a firm stance on an idea to name a federal building in the nation's capital after famed Prohibition-era federal agent Eliot Ness.

They say it should be rejected.

Earlier this month, U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk introduced a resolution to name the headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms the "Eliot Ness ATF Building."

The name would honor "the legendary law enforcement agent who fought to bring Chicago mob boss Al Capone to justice," according to a statement on Durbin's website.

Ald. Ed Burke (14th) said the senators from Illinois should brush up on their history.

"Eliot Ness never laid eyes on Al Capone," Burke said. "The truth is — and we should tell the truth — Eliot Ness was a figment of Hollywood's imagination, and he had absolutely nothing to do with the case against Al Capone."

 Ald. Ed Burke says the City Council should reject the decision to name a building after Eliot Ness. (File Photo)
Ald. Ed Burke says the City Council should reject the decision to name a building after Eliot Ness. (File Photo)
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

Burke, along with Ald. James Balcer (11th), introduced a resolution Wednesday saying the City Council should take a public stance against the idea.

The real hero who helped bring down Capone was a federal agent in the Treasury Department named Frank Wilson, said Burke, a Chicago history buff. Wilson assembled a case that showed Capone failed to pay his taxes and ultimately sent the gangster to jail.

Burke also said Ness' career was "marked by controversy," including a late-night drunk-driving accident in Cleveland that led to his resignation as the city's public safety director.

When it comes to naming the ATF headquarters, Burke said "100 people are more deserving than Eliot Ness," but said Durbin and Kirk could consider the man who really brought down Capone.

"If the federal government is looking for a role model to use for a building name, why not Frank Wilson?" Burke said.

Wilson has at least one more interesting imprint on Chicago's history, Burke said. Wilson was responsible for recruiting Edward O'Hare, the father of famed World War II pilot Butch O'Hare, as an informant in the Capone case.

Edward O'Hare was killed years later by the Chicago Outfit for his role in the case, but Burke said historians believe O'Hare's decision to become an informant was partly due to a deal to get his son into the U.S. Naval Academy.

Burke said the name of the ATF building should be grounded in fact, not fiction.

"At the very minimum, I think we should be about telling the truth and not permitting Hollywood to create a myth that then gets perpetuated by the actions of the federal government," he said.