Roland Burris Tapped for Vacant U. S. Senate Seat


Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today appointed former politician and statewide office-holder Roland W. Burris to the United States Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.

Gov. Blajojevich and Senator replacment Roland Burris at a press conference on Dec. 30, 2008.
Photo by Mary C. Johns

Burris, once an opponent of Blagojevich for the governorship, was chosen for the vacant Senate position “after the Illinois House of Representatives dropped plans to schedule a special election for the spot,” according to Blagojevich.

At the afternoon press conference at the governor’s office at the James Thompson Center in downtown Chicago, Blagojevich declared that there was no one better suited to serve the 12.8 million residents of Illinois than Burris.

“Roland Burris is an individual who has unquestionable integrity, extensive experience and is a wise and distinguished senior statesman of Illinois. He will be a great United States Senator,” said the Illinois Governor.

Blagojevich, who is currently under scrutiny for alleged corruption, also encouraged people not to hold anything against Burris because of the federal criminal corruption complaints charges against him by the US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.

“I’d like to ask everyone to do one last thing: Please don’t allow the allegations against me to taint this good and honest man,” said Blagojevich.

The 71-year-old Burris, a graduate of Howard University School of Law, currently runs a political consulting firm and works as a lawyer. In 1983, he was elected to the office of comptroller, becoming the first African-American to be elected to an Illinois statewide office. He was the Illinois Attorney General from 1991 through 1995.

At the press conference, Burris said that he welcomes the challenge that awaits him in the 111th Congress, and that he has faith in the record that he had forged over the last four decades.

He also wanted the people of Illinois “to place the same faith and trust” in him that he said they had done in the past while he was a public servant.

“I am humbled to have the opportunity, and promise the citizens that I will dedicate my utmost efforts as their United States Senator and I will uphold the integrity of the office, and ask for their continued confidence in me,” declared Burris.

Burris stated that he didn’t think his appointment would be tainted in any way because of the criminal charges now hanging over the governor.

“This is an appointment done by the governor of the state, and based on that, I have no relationship with that situation. I’ve accepted an appointment by the governor to go to the United States Senate,” he said.

News reports that the Senate Democratic Caucus leadership wouldn’t certify his appointment didn’t seem to faze Burris.

“That’s the process we look forward to and this is one process that I’m honored to have been appointed, and we will deal with the next step of the process.”

Burris said that Blagojevich only recently asked him if he wanted to fill the vacant Senate position.

“I talked with the governor on Sunday night. When he asked me if he appointed me, would I accept, and my answer was yes,” Burris said.

As to whether he thought Blagojevich should resign as governor, Burris said, “I have no comment on what the governor’s circumstance is. And as a former attorney general of this state, I know and I think that most of you all know that in this legal process, you’re innocent until you’re proven guilty.”

U.S. Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-IL) was also on hand at the press conference and spoke about Burris’ appointment.

Rush said that he agreed with Blagojevich’s choice in picking Burris to fill the vacant Senate seat, especially since he said “We need many African Americans in the US Senate.”

“Let me remind you that there is currently no African American. We need to have not just one African American in the Senate.

“I applaud the governor for his decision. It has extreme national importance. Roland Burris is worthy. He is the only one I believe that can stand in the gap during these tumultuous times,” declared Rush.

Rush also said that he felt that the Secretary of State Jesse White had acted prematurely in issuing a statement denouncing Burris’ appointment, and added that he wasn’t sure that White had the authority to do so.

Rush went on to say that he and others intended to “persuade” his congressional colleagues by challenging or begging them to accept Burris in President-elect Barack Obama’s former senate seat.

“Whatever it may take to get them to reverse their decisions, Roland Burris stands head to shoulders above most of the elected officials in this nation. And there is no rhyme or reason why he should not be sitting in the US Senate. This is a matter of national importance. There are no African Americans seated in the US Senate and I don’t see any US Senator who’s sitting in the Senate right now who wants to go on record to deny one African American for being seated in the US Senate,” Rush said.

Rush added that he intended to take that argument to the Congressional Black Caucus, and to the US Senate, beginning with US Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who he claimed “is a friend of mine.”

Rush ended by also asking the reporters in attendance not to negatively write about Burris based on Blagojevich’s ongoing federal investigation.

“I would ask you to not hang or lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointer,” he said.

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