Bobby Rush


More than a dozen elected officials have called on Roland Burris to resign his U.S. Senate seat, but three notable Chicago politicians are not among them: Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, Mayor Richard Daley and U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush.

Stroger supports Burris, which isn’t surprising when you consider both men are political hacks with low approval ratings. But part of what Stroger said Friday makes sense.

“I don’t think he should resign. I think he immediately tried to let people know outside of the questions that were asked,” Stroger said. “In the end, this is really part of Gov. Blagojevich’s tenure. It’s not Roland they care about, they don’t like to see anything that had Gov. Blagojevich’s fingerprints on. Roland Burris is paying the price for being appointed by him. That’s all.”

Burris didn’t try to let voters know the whole story behind his appointment until his testimony-altering affidavit was unearthed by the Chicago Sun-Times. But Stroger is right that there is intense scrutiny on Burris because of his connection to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was kicked out of office last month. That’s not to say Burris doesn’t deserve the scrutiny — his evolving story about the events leading to his appointment reeks of half-truths and reluctant “honesty.”

Yet Daley, arguably the most powerful politician in Illinois, refuses to call for Burris’s resignation. Instead, he acts as if the Burris controversy isn’t a big deal.

“Let’s put everything in perspective and give him an opportunity to explain himself,” Daley told reporters. “Automatically, every time something happens, people want everybody to resign. Is it becoming very common now to tell people to resign after he was appointed?”

Asked if he thought voters who wanted more transparency in government were disappointed with the controversy over Burris’ appointment, Daley said he thought people would eventually “move on with their lives.”

“Three people got killed [Friday night]. Do you think the people who killed them care who is their U.S. senator?” Daley said. “Life goes on.”

Those paragraphs are from the end of a Chicago Tribune story about Burris being interviewed by federal authorities Saturday. What the story neglected to mention was Daley probably will never criticize Burris because he is no political angel himself. The omission is understandable since the article isn’t a commentary piece. However, the story could have helped readers connect the dots if the federal probe into Daley’s administration was mentioned.

As for Rush, I’m still waiting to hear what he has to say about the Burris controversy. When Blagojevich appointed Burris to the U.S. Senate in late December, Rush was quick to play the race card and say Burris had to be accepted because he is black and there are no other blacks in the U.S. Senate. But now Rush is silent. I’m sure some reporters tried to get him to comment about Burris’s changing story, but Rush won’t talk about it. That’s a shame because voters deserve to know his opinion about the matter since he made it a point to involve himself in the Burris situation in the first place.

Chris Matthews disappointed me today. He had U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush as a guest on his MSNBC show, “Hardball,” to talk about whether racial politics are playing a role in the ongoing U.S. Senate saga involving Roland Burris. Ever since embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich appointed Burris to fill President-elect Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat, Rush has been saying people must accept Burris as a U.S. Senator because he is black and there otherwise aren’t any blacks in the Senate after Obama resigned his seat.

Matthews and Rush discussed this topic for 10 minutes and the “Hardball” host never asked Rush why race is such an important factor now when it apparently wasn’t as important to Rush five years ago when the congressman endorsed a white man, Blair Hull, instead of  Barack Obama in the 2004 Democratic Senate primary, when there weren’t any African-American senators. The reason why Rush didn’t endorse Obama at that time is because Obama unsuccessfully tried to unseat Rush several years earlier, and Rush was still miffed at Obama. I knew that from reading David Mendell’s excellent biography of the president-elect, Obama: From Promise to Power. Matthews may have known that, too, but that doesn’t excuse his lack of asking the question when TV talking heads often repeat recycled questions. (Listen to any Obama press conference for evidence of that.)

The only person I’ve noticed mention Rush’s endorsement of Hull is Chicago Tribune editorial board member Clarence Page in his newspaper column Sunday. It is disappointing that nobody else in the media has mentioned this, considering how much attention is being devoted to the Burris saga.

For a fleeting minute today, I thought the Burris Gambit worked.

Before the smoke clears from the latest political fire started by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, it may turn out the Burris Gambit did work.

Former Illinois Attorney General and Comptroller Roland Burris knew he wasn’t on the short list of potential successors to President-elect Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat. But he still wanted to be a U.S. senator without the hassle of running another statewide election, so Burris seized upon his last, best chance to get the job within days of Blagojevich’s Dec. 9 arrest on political corruption charges. Burris organized a press conference to try convincing people he would be the best choice to replace Obama because he was untainted by the pay-to-play allegations made against the governor.

At that time, I thought the Burris Gambit smacked of just that – a calculated political move made by a veteran member of the Chicago political machine. However, I didn’t think Burris actually had a chance of being named Obama’s successor. After serving as state comptroller from 1979 t0 1991 and Illinois attorney general from 1991 to 1995, Burris had all but disappeared from the political scene other than to occasionally run for office and lose. Over the years, Burris unsuccessfully ran for governor three times and U.S. Senate once. He even tried to do the impossible by attempting to unseat Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley in 1995.

I suppose Burris, 71, wanted to write a better ending to his political story. He also may have thrown his hat into the ring just to get a better government pension. Regardless of his intent, he certainly didn’t want to lose another election.

“What I wanted to be is a senator and not a candidate at this point,” Burris said on MSNBC late this afternoon.

Despite his repeated statements trying to convince us otherwise, Burris is not untainted in this matter, and not only because of the simple fact he was appointed by Blagojevich. Burris has been a Blagojevich ally in the past – Burris was vice-chairman of the governor’s transition team in 2002, and has donated thousands of dollars to Blagojevich’s campaigns – and thus it will not be surprising if Burris’s name turns up on the Blagogate wiretap recordings.

Whether Burris actually gets to be a U.S. senator for the next two years remains to be seen. Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White said he won’t certify Blagojevich’s appointment, but I don’t think that would hold up in court. Harry Reid, Dick Durbin and the rest of the U.S. Senate Democratic Caucus say they won’t seat anyone appointed by Blagojevich, but that may not be legal, either. In 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the House of Representatives could not refuse to seat Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., a New York Democrat accused of misusing travel funds and putting his wife on the payroll. So Illinois may be stuck with Burris as its next U.S. senator.

If that is the case, Burris surely will be an ineffective senator. Not only will he be scorned by his fellow senators, he will be eaten alive by the media. Burris barely survived today’s news conference, which was more like a circus than a presser. He will be hounded by questions of illegitimacy until he steps away from this mess, is forced out of it, or fulfills the two years left in Obama’s vacated term – whichever comes first.

One thing is for sure: Burris brought the intense media scrutiny onto himself by accepting Blagojevich’s appointment, even though the questions of illegitimacy are not because of Burris’s political track record or racial background (as insinuated by U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush).

“This is about Roland Burris as a United States senator, not about the governor who makes the appointment,” Blagojevich said during his press conference today.

Wrong again, Blago. This whole mess has everything to do with you.