Racial divide widens in Burris debate

February 27, 2009 3:40:44 PM PST
As Sen. Roland Burris ignores the growing calls to resign, he's gaining more support from some in Chicago's African-American community.Still, Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn says he wants Burris to resign so a special election could be held to replace him.

The controversy over what Burris may have said -- or not said -- to get appointed to the United States Senate has evolved into an even uglier political fight with racial overtones. So unified a few months ago after the election of Barack Obama, many black and white Democrats are now divided again over what should happen to the nation's only African-American senator.

"At this time in our state's history and in Roland's life, we need a different person to be our United States' history," Governor Quinn said.

While speaking in Joliet, the governor continues to hold firm: the state's appointed U.S. Sen. Roland Burris should quit. He was not intimidated by African-American city alderman who, Thursday, threatened to withhold their support from any elected official who continued to call for Burris' resignation.

"The voters of our state, they elect the senator. It doesn't belong to any group or region or special interest," Governor Quinn said.

Thursday, Attorney General Lisa Madigan told ABC7 Chicago, in her opinion, the state legislature could vote to make Burris a temporary senator then call a special election to replace him.

Some black attorneys who support Burris called the opinion by Madigan, a possible future candidate for governor or U.S. senator, self-serving.

"There's no reason for her to be attempting to attack him, unless she has certain aims and goals for her own future," said Larry Kennon, a lawyer for Burris.

Despite the Madigan opinion, the governor says trying to call a special election without first getting Burris to resign would ignite an open-ended legal battle.

"I'm fearful there will be this infinite litigation," said Quinn.

But Republican Senator Matt Murphy, who wrote the Madigan-approved special election bill, accused Quinn of looking for excuses to avoid an election that could risk the Senate seat held by the Democrats.

"They want to make the statements that they support this, but in reality, if they really supported it, they'd stop making excuses and get it done," said Murphy.

Burris, who continues to refuse media interviews, was set to spend the weekend in Chicago. ABC7 Chicago has learned that, Sunday, Burris will make a major public address at a prayer rally at the South Side's New Covenant Baptist Church, scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. The reported purpose is to re-emphasize the message to Burris' critics within the party to leave the senator alone or suffer the political consequences.