Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Who is Roland Burris?

by Janet Crain
Adding to the circus like atmosphere of 2008 politics, beleaguered and discredited Chicago governor, Blagojevich, has pulled a rabbit out of his hat.

Told that the senate body would reject anyone he attempted to appoint, he chose a man it will be very hard for Harry Reid to reject without being called a racist. JC


by Ryan Grim

On Election Day in November, Roland Burris walked alone to his polling place and was greeted by a local news team working on a historical piece about African-Americans elected statewide in Illinois.

Back in 1978, Burris had become the first. But on Election Day 2008, only the older folks at his polling place recognized him.

“How soon they forget,” Burris mused then. “You get pushed to the side, when you’re no longer in office, quite easily.”

He must not have been enjoying the anonymity. Within weeks of Barack Obama’s election as president, Burris stood in front of the cameras, with Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn behind him, to announce his interest in the president-elect’s Senate seat.

The nascent campaign for the seat went positively subterranean when Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested for allegedly attempting to sell it. Burris, though, kept hope alive.

He is a persistent man. After winning statewide races for comptroller and attorney general — which straddled a losing 1984 bid for U.S. Senate — he set a course for the governor’s mansion. He failed to win the Democratic primary in 1994, and he followed that with a failed bid for the Chicago mayor’s office in 1995 and two more unsuccessful runs for governor in 1998 and 2002.

Burris has two children: Roland and Rolanda.

He now runs the lobbying and consulting firm Burris & Lebed Consulting. That might make him ineligible to work in the Obama administration, but it doesn’t rule him out of the Senate. Blagojevich declared him to be a man of “unquestioned integrity” in announcing his appointment Tuesday.

Before the governor’s presser, however, the Illinois GOP released a collection of old reports that questioned Burris’ integrity, noting that he continued to raise money for Blagojevich even after the governor came under a dark ethical cloud.

The questioning goes back further.

“He decries pinstripe patronage, but Burris' terms as comptroller and attorney general have been rife with contracts for contributors,” wrote a Chicago Tribune columnist in 1994 as Burris was running for governor. “In a petty complaint, he criticizes [an opponent’s] use of significant campaign loans from her husband, yet Burris accepts questionable contributions from nursing home operators regulated by the state and once sweetened his state pension with a loan from his own political fund.”

But Burris’ persistence paid off Tuesday with a Senate appointment. He beamed as Blagojevich trumpeted him and asked that he not be found guilty by his association with the embattled governor. When Blagojevich mentioned that the pair had previously been political opponents, Burris smiled wider.

Blagojevich, too, seemed to be making the most of the show. He told reporters that he had enjoyed his recent time in the limelight, but wanted to defer to Burris. Later, when Burris turned to Blagojevich to see if the governor wanted to answer a question, Blagojevich smirked, “You’re the senator.”

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