Burris debate divides Ill. Democrats

Aldermen come forward in support of Burris
February 26, 2009 On Thursday, several Chicago aldermen announced their support for Burris while also issuing a warning to those who continue to call for his removal from office.

Key Democrats including Senator Dick Durbin, Governor Pat Quinn, and Attorney General Lisa Madigan want Senator Burris to quit. But some Chicago aldermen, including powerful Democratic committeemen and party leaders, are threatening anti-Burris Democrats with election day reprisals.

"If you're going to call on our support, we're asking that you stop tearing down Roland Burris' character, his integrity," said Ald. Anthony Beale, 9th Ward Democratic committeeman.

Beale and other pro-Burris aldermen say the senator was legally appointed, served Illinoisans for 16 years in statewide office, and there's no valid reason for him to resign. He and city council colleagues warn of a possible backlash against their own party.

"I would just suggest that those people who seek to run in the City of Chicago, where there are people of color living, that they should tone it down because some of us are taking notes," said Ald. Fredrenna Lyle, 6th Ward Democratic committeeman.

Senator Burris hasn't decided whether to run next year for a full six-year term. But he insists he will serve the almost two years remaining in the Senate term vacated by President Obama despite a nationwide controversy over his appointment by former Governor Rod Blagojevich who faces federal corruption charges.

The turmoil grew when Burris recently revised his testimony and admitted that he tried to raise money for Blagojevich.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Madigan says under the U.S. constitution, the General Assembly can order a special election to replace Burris.

"The 17th Amendment clearly has a preference for the people to elect their U.S. senators. That's really the foundation of our democracy," said Madigan.

Republicans agree with Madigan that an election can and should be held even though the Senate seat is filled.

But Northwestern law professor emeritus Dawn Clark Netsch, a former Democratic nominee for governor, has doubts.

"You could argue that there is no vacancy, because Mr. Burris is now in the Senate. He's been sworn in," said Prof. Dawn Clark Netsch.

Another concern for a special election is cost.

As Illinois and many local governments face severe budget deficits it's not clear where millions of dollars would come from for a senate primary, and then the election.

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