Burris boasts long career

January 8, 2009 6:39:10 PM PST
New statewide poll finds that more than half of Illinois voters are opposed to Burris' Senate appointment. The history of 71-year-old Roland Burris can actually be found under a state seal. And the words 'trail blazer' can be found on the top of a mausoleum that he built for himself at a South Side cemetery.

In fact, he was the first African American to do a lot of things such as winning statewide elections and taking a swim in a municipal swimming pool in his southern Illinois home town of Centralia.

But in recent years, he's been better at playing the political game as a lawyer lobbyist than winning anything as a candidate.

Roland Burris is paying the price for an appointment that is tarnished and tainted by the cloud of corruption and scandal that hovers menacingly over the head of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, according to a new poll by the Glengariff Group. The poll indicates that 52 percent of Illinois voters oppose the appointment. Only 32 percent support it and only 21 percent approve of the governor's decision to exercise his appointment power, while 72 per cent want a special election or an appointment by Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn to fill the Senate seat.

"I think rather than a judgment on Roland, this is a judgment on the process," said Don Rose, political analyst.

Roland Burris was the first African American to win a statewide election in 1979 to the office of controller which he held for 12 years before becoming the first black attorney general. But since then he's lost five elections in a row, including three unsuccessful campaigns for governor. One of those elections was marred by a comment on a cable show that his three Democratic opponents were "unqualified white boys."

"That was a bad choice of a word and an emotional response. The people, because of the color of my skin, say I should get out of the race and I was responding to that," said Burris.

Burris became a lawyer lobbyist after losing to Blagojevich in the 2002 Democratic primary. But there weren't any hard feelings as his clients racked up lucrative state contracts and contributed thousands to Blagojevich campaigns.

But according to Burris, it was never pay-to-play or quid pro quo.

"The party has absolutely nothing to be concerned about," said Burris.

No one's ever accused Burris of breaking the law. But he's helped friends, family members and political allies like all the other politicians who do things the 'Illinois way.'

One of his deputies in the attorney general's office, in the 1990's, quit in protest because he supported the execution of convicted murderer Rolando Cruz. Cruz was later freed from death row and exonerated. That is not on the mausoleum which has a lot of open space for future accomplishments.