Tips question Lake Oswego City Council candidate's past
Running for political office often involves a heightened level of scrutiny about candidates' lives as community members try to figure out who deserves their vote. Often, that scrutiny can go beyond policy and the issues of the day and veer into personal lives and the past.
That's what happened in the Lake Oswego City Council race earlier this month, when The Review received multiple phone calls and emails alleging that council candidate Emma Burke had been involved with a strip club in North Portland called Casa Diablo.
The club made headlines when it opened, billed as Portland's only vegan strip club. More recently, a second Casa Diablo location made headlines of its own because of a feud with Acropolis, a steakhouse-themed strip club located next door.
The original Casa Diablo was also widely reported to be the target of a 2015 lawsuit brought by two former dancers who claimed to have been denied pay to which they were entitled. The lawsuit ended in a 2016 stipulated agreement in which all parties involved dropped their claims.
The Review investigated the multiple tips it received and found that, according to Clackamas County Circuit Court records, Burke did marry a man named Johnny Zukle — also known as Johnny Diablo — in 2009, not long after Zukle founded Casa Diablo. She filed for divorce in November 2015, and court filings from both parties said the couple had already been living separately by that point.
In a memorandum filed through her attorney as part of the divorce proceedings, Burke indicated that she had little to no involvement with the operation of Casa Diablo. And a memorandum from Zukle's attorney said that Burke had pushed for the couple to seek out new business ventures outside of the adult entertainment industry, and that the issue was one of the factors that strained the marriage.
A divorce settlement was reached in November 2016, and Burke subsequently changed her name from Emily Zukle to Emma Leigh Burke.
Burke is mentioned by her previous name in a few news stories from that time period, including a May 2015 article in which she and Zukle were developing plans to open a new restaurant and marijuana dispensary on a piece of property in Portland's Woodstock neighborhood.
Those plans didn't materialize, and the property was later sold. Willamette Week recently reported that the new owner has plans to reopen the building on the property as a new version of Towne Crier, the restaurant that occupied the space until 1996.
Burke's previous name appears along with Zukle's on an application for a liquor license for the Woodstock property, but she does not appear to have ever been listed in any of the business or property records for Casa Diablo, and was not listed as a defendant in the 2015 lawsuit.
She's also mentioned in a 2013 story in the Wenatchee Valley Business World about a therapuetic massage business that she had recently opened. The story states that Burke had been in a car accident a few years before that required massage therapy as part of the recovery process, and that the experience prompted Burke to begin pursuing a career in massage therapy.
She earned a massage therapy certification from the Columbia River Institute of Massage Therapy in December 2012. (Burke is originally from Wenatchee, Wash., and was living there at the time.) She later became licensed in Oregon as well, and has continued to build her career in the field, working at various times both in private practice and for larger organizations.
Burke has been living in Lake Oswego for the past five years and has become involved in a number of community organizations, including the group LO Moms and the Lake Oswego School District's newly formed Equity Committee.
When The Review interviewed Burke in July for an initial story about her council candidacy, she said that she was divorced but did not volunteer any details about her previous marriage. The interview focused on her career in massage therapy, her involvement with the Lake Oswego community and her goals for the future of the city.
Reached last week for comment on this story, Burke did not deny her marriage to Zukle or their past business ventures. But she said she had been working to build her career in massage therapy, and wanted to simply focus on her life in Lake Oswego.
Burke said that she had not intentionally withheld the information in the initial interview, but hadn't mentioned it because she did not consider it to be relevant to her City Council campaign or her current role in the Lake Oswego community.