Will Roland Burris Resign?
The tragicomedy that is Illinois politics has seen many a colorful character dance across the stage, entertaining the hard-bitten and cynical press with the brazenness of their malfeasance and devil-may-care attitude toward who might know it.
But Roland Burris was supposed to be different. He is a man with nearly two decades of unblemished service first as Illinois comptroller and then two terms as Illinois attorney general. He was widely respected as a clean, honest politician with unquestioned integrity.
But despite the respect he had garnered through the years, Burris felt his career was incomplete. Twice he ran for governor and lost. His bid for mayor of Chicago and another try for the Senate were unsuccessful. Friends said these failures ate at him, that he thought himself a lesser light in the political firmament because he had never achieved the high office he so coveted.
Then came the Obama candidacy for president and almost from the day that Obama clinched the Democratic nomination, Burris was pushing himself forward to replace him in the Senate:
"He wanted to end his career with a statewide office," said friend, traveling companion and WVON radio host Cliff Kelley, who recalled Burris becoming upset when others were mentioned as potential Obama successors and he was not. "He really wanted this. He never thought he'd get it, but he was hoping for it."
Burris' current problems can be traced directly to this overarching desire to top his career off with a bang. Instead, he is likely to end it in shame.
Here's story number one:
His troubles began on January 5 of this year when he submitted an affidavit to the Illinois House impeachment committee, which was looking into the question of whether to bring Governor Rod Blagojevich to trial in the state Senate for his conduct in trying to sell the senate seat being vacated by President Obama, among other misadventures. In that sworn document, Burris stated that he had no contact with any of Governor Blagojevich's representatives prior to December 26, when the governor's lawyer called him about the senate seat.
And story number two:
On January 8, Burris appeared before the impeachment committee to give his make or break testimony. The U.S. Senate was already up in arms over the fact that the disgraced governor named a candidate for the senate seat despite their warnings he wouldn't be seated. But Blagojevich correctly judged the political quandary he had placed the Democratic leadership in by naming a respected African American to the job. With black activists organizing a nationwide campaign to support Burris, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seemed to be softening his stand to bar him from serving.
But Reid was specific in his warning to Burris about his testimony before the impeachment inquiry:
After days in which Senate leaders had demonstrated determined resistance to Burris' appointment to the Senate by scandal-tainted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Reid praised Burris as "candid and forthright." And he suggested the testimony Burris is to give Thursday before the state legislature's impeachment committee could be crucial to his prospects of gaining the seat.
"He's going to go answer any other questions they might have. He's not trying to avoid any responsibility and trying to hide anything," said Reid (D-Nev.) "Once that's done, we'll be in a different position and see what we are going to do."
Burris's appearance went so-so. There were complaints from Republicans that the candidate was not very forthcoming about some aspects of his testimony with regards to who his clients were that he lobbied for in Springfield. And there was one crucial contradiction to his sworn affidavit from January 5. Burris admitted to a contact where the Senate seat was discussed with Lon Monk, former chief of staff and close friend of Governor Blagojevich. But the Democrats let that small discrepancy slide. Anyone can make a mistake.