Blagojevich names Roland Burris to Obama’s Senate seat

BURRIS FACES A FIGHT | US Senate Dems, Ill. secretary of state plan to block Blago’s choice

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Days of Noah

“But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.”
—Matt 24:37


”The earth also was corrupt before God,and the earth was filled with violence”.
—Gen 6:11

Ignoring threats from the U.S. Senate Democratic leadership to block his pick, Gov. Blagojevich this afternoon said he’s appointing Roland Burris to President-elect Barack Obama’s vacant U.S. Senate seat.

“The people of Illinois are entitled to have two U.S. Senators,” said Blagojevich, whose arrest on corruption charges earlier this month places Burris’ appointment under a cloud. “If I don’t make this appointment then the people of Illinois will be deprived.”

During a downtown news conference, Blagojevich called Burris, 71, an individual with “unquestioned integrity” and a “senior statesman of Illinois.”

Later, Blagojevich said, “Please don’t let the allegations against me taint this good and honest man.”

In his remarks, Burris didn’t rule out trying to seek re-election in 2010 should he somehow make his way into the Senate seat. He also gave no idea what his strategy might be to avoid his appointment being blocked by Senate leadership.

“I have faith in the record I have accomplished in the past four decades,” Burris said. “I am humbled to have this opportunity. I will uphold the integrity of this office.”

Burris and his lobbying/consulting firm have donated about $15,000 to the governor’s campaign fund. His firm has done work for the Illinois Department of Transportation under Blagojevich, and a law-firm to which he is “of counsel” has been a recipient of state bond business.

Burris, however, ridiculed reporters who asked questions about whether his relationship with the Blagojevich administration might have played a role in the governor appointing him. Burris said the two talked about the appointment Sunday night.

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) made a surprise appearance at the press conference to give Burris a vote of confidence and urge the U.S. Senate not to stand in Burris’ way.

It is imperative the Senate have an African-American replace Obama, Rush said.

“Separate, if you will, the appointee from the appointer,” said Rush. “Roland Burris is worthy. He is the only one that can stand in the gap during these tumultuous times and reestablish the confidence of the people of the state of Illinois.”

Before the Blagojevich and Burris news conference, which was aired live on multiple national news channels, Democratic leaders in the Senate issued a statement saying any Blagojevich appointee would not be seated. And the leaders urged Blagojevich to resign.

“It is truly regrettable that despite warning from all 50 Democratic senators and public officials throughout Illinois, Gov. Blagojevich would take the imprudent step of appointing someone to the United States Senate who would serve under a shadow and be plagued by questions of impropriety,” the statement read.

“We say this without prejudice toward Roland Burris’s ability, and we respect his years of public service. But this is not about Mr. Burris; it is about the integrity of a governor accused of attempting to sell this United States Senate seat. Under these circumstances, anyone appointed by Gov. Blagojevich cannot be an effective representative of the people of Illinois and, as we have said, will not be seated by the Democratic Caucus.”

The statement said the Senate is preparing to embark on “one of the most important debates of the year outlining an economic recovery plan to create jobs and invest in America” ‹ and Illinois needs two sitting senators “without delay.”

“We again urge Gov. Blagojevich to not make this appointment,” the Democratic leadership said. “It is unfair to Mr. Burris, it is unfair to the people of Illinois and it will ultimately not stand. The governor must put the interests of the people of Illinois and all Americans first by stepping aside now and letting his successor appoint someone who we will seat.

Now that Burris has accepted the appointment, he faces the likelihood of becoming entangled in Blagojevich’s unfolding impeachment drama and, in a political sense, would be viewed heading into the 2010 election as a placeholder because of his age.

The ranking Republican on the House impeachment panel, Rep. Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs), told the Chicago Sun-Times he’ll urge Burris to turn down the job and, if he accepts it, “to make himself available” as a witness before the committee.

“I think that Mr. Burris should really think long and hard about accepting this under the circumstances when this very process he’s part of is subject to a federal investigation and an impeachment inquiry by the House,” Durkin said.

Adding to Tuesday’s drama, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White said he would not certify the appointment — although White’s spokesman acknowledged there is not specific law requirement White’s approval.

“I have previously stated publicly I cannot cosign a document that certifies any appointment by Rod Blagojevich for the vacant United States Senate seat in Illinois,” White said. “Although I have respect for former Attorney General Roland Burris, because of the current cloud of controversy surrounding the governor, I cannot accept the document.”

White spokesman David Druker acknowledged there is no constitutional or statutory requirement that the secretary of state sign off on a gubernatorial appointment to the U.S. Senate ‹ only longstanding precedent.

In 1969, then-Secretary of State Paul Powell signed off on then-Gov. Richard Ogilvie’s appointment of Ralph Smith to succeed U.S. Sen. Everett Dirksen (R-Ill.) after he’d died, Druker said.

Burris, who did not immediately return phone calls, was state comptroller from 1979 to 1991, then served one term as the state’s attorney general.

Burris ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Chicago in 1995 and was a loser in gubernatorial bids in 1994, 1998 and 2002. In that 2002 race, Burris got 363,591 votes but finished last in a three-way primary that Blagojevich won and that propelled the now-indicted governor into the state’s highest office.

In 2002, Burris became a lobbyist and has had a portfolio that has included Commonwealth Edison, Comcast and the state’s funeral home industry. His lobbying firm — Burris & Lebed Consulting, of Chicago — also has snared $294,545 in state contracts under Blagojevich since 2004, state records show.

He, his lobbying firm and his law firm — Burris Wright Slaughter & Tom — have contributed $20,296 in cash and services to Blagojevich’s campaign fund since 2002. The most-recent contribution, $1,000, came last June. It was already widely known at the time that Blagojevich was a target of federal investigators.

Burris didn’t appear to be among the candidates under consideration for the post before the governor’s Dec. 9 arrest. But Burris did indicate to attendees at the City Club Christmas Party earlier this month that he thought he was in the running, along with U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), Chicago Urban League chief Cheryle Jackson and Valerie Jarrett, a confidante of Obama who took herself out of the running.

Contributing: Abdon Pallasch, Natasha Korecki

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