Roland Burris

This week Washingtonian magazine released its “Best and Worst of Congress” list that appears in its September issue, and both of our U.S. senators placed prominently.

Not surprisingly, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin did better in the polling than U.S. Sen. Roland Burris, who was appointed to the Senate by then-Gov. (and now convicted felon) Rod Blagojevich.

In the survey of administrative aides, press secretaries, legislative directors and other congressional staffers, Washingtonian found that Durbin is considered the most eloquent member of the U.S. Senate, as well as its top workhorse. Burris, on the other hand, was named the Senate’s most clueless member and the third-most likely senator to be involved in a scandal. (Fortunately, time is quickly running out for Burris to get embroiled in another scandal – though the Blagojevich one is already enough.)

As of this writing, I haven’t heard either senator’s response to the rankings, but I can imagine them. Durbin, for instance, might play off his ranking as the Senate’s top workhorse and channel Lou Gehrig, who was known as baseball’s “Iron Horse.”

“Today,” Durbin might say, “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. Well, besides my fellow Illinoisan, U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, who was named the House’s top male hottie and third-best dresser in the same survey.”

Microphone reverb would be added for effect, of course.

But now that we know Durbin is considered the most eloquent member of the Senate (Who knew?), I now have higher expectations for his speechifying.   And when I think of eloquent, I think of Shakespearean-style soliloquies.

“O, what a rogue this news inspires me to be,

Always second to one, Barack or Reid,

But in a dream of passion, I come out on top,

Obama’s now president, and Reid may be out,

Should Harry lose re-election, I shall not weep much,

For the next move is obvious, I have a hunch,

The Senate’s best speaker would be majority leader!”

As for Burris, he is known for his brazen disregard for reality and tendency to refer to himself in the third person. He probably would call himself a visionary and try to make his first-place ranking sound like an award rather than a raspberry. Then he would have it etched in the side of his mausoleum.

Indeed, his “acceptance speech” might go something like this:

“People said I was either crazy or divinely directed. I accept the latter. I believe, without a doubt, that I am predestined to be a role model.”

It’s not like that is too far-fetched – Burris actually uttered that quote to the Chicago Sun-Times when he unsuccessfully ran for governor in 1994.

Actually, considering the ranking Burris received, I’d love to hear Crazy Uncle Roland paraphrase some quotes from the Alicia Silverstone movie, “Clueless.” Instead, we probably would hear something like this:

“My friends in the media,” he might say, “I would just like to state that the attitude in the Senate is a disgrace. I mean, all this nonsense about Roland Burris might be corrupt, Roland Burris is clueless, let’s shun Roland Burris. I doubt any of them are cleaner than Roland Burris.”

And he might even be right about the holier-than-thou attitude directed toward him by his fellow senators. But, what Burris has always failed to grasp is this: He makes it so easy to cast stones at him.

Burris, however, can always take solace in this fact: Two months from now, we won’t have him to kick around anymore.

This column was also published in the Sept. 2 issue of Ottawa Delivered.


As a Chicago Cubs fan, I couldn’t help but notice a particular triple play of events during Tuesday night’s All-Star Game:

1. The Midsummer Classic was held at the new Busch Stadium, home of the rival St. Louis Cardinals. Because of this fact, several Cardinals Hall-of-Famers were trotted out during the pregame festivities and current Cardinals were cheered loudly while the lone Cubs representative, pitcher Ted Lilly, was roundly booed during team introductions. (And Lilly didn’t end up pitching in the game, either.)

2. The American League continued its All-Star Game dominance, winning 4-3 to post a 12-0-1 record in the last 13 All-Star Games. If this trend continues, the National League may never have homefield advantage in the World Series again.

3. President Barack Obama wore a Chicago White Sox jacket while delivering the ceremonial first pitch to Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols, who has a real shot at winning baseball’s elusive Triple Crown this season.

President Barack Obama throws out the ceremonial first pitch before Tuesday's All-Star Game in St. Louis. (Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)

I like Obama, but was it really necessary for him to showcase Chicago’s South Side team in front of a national audience?

“Everyone knows I’m a White Sox fan and my wife thinks I look cute in this jacket,” Obama told FOX broadcasters Joe Buck and Tim McCarver. “Between those two things, why not?”

At least Obama didn’t rip the Cubs during the half-inning he spent in the broadcast booth. “I’m not a Cubs hater. … I just don’t root for them,” he said.

As a White Sox fan, Obama obviously rooted for the American League to win. Ironically, the National League scored all three of its runs while the president was in the broadcast booth — and White Sox hurler Mark Buehrle warmed up in the bullpen then, too.

Also notable was Hawaii native Shane Victorino’s single and run scored while Obama was in the broadcast booth during the bottom of the second inning. Obama also is a Hawaii native, which earned him a gift of  macadamia nuts from Victorino before the game.

Although he correctly predicted the Pittsburgh Steelers winning the Super Bowl in February and the University of North Carolina winning the NCAA men’s basketball title in April, Obama declined to predict who will win the World Series this year.

“It’s a little early for that,” Obama said. “You know, I tend to try to get a little more information.”

As for the presidential first pitch, Obama lobbed the ball just hard enough to barely reach home plate. In that respect, former President George W. Bush did a better job than Obama. Bush, a former owner of the Texas Rangers, always threw a solid first pitch to the plate.

Obama threw out a first pitch one other time, before Game 2 of the 2005 American League Championship Series between the White Sox and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, when he was Illinois’ junior U.S. senator. The White Sox lost Game 1 of that series.

“After I threw out my first pitch, they won eight straight” to win the World Series, Obama noted.

Does that mean whatever American League team plays in the World Series this year will win it? We have to wait until fall to find out. In the meantime, I’m fairly certain no team will ask Obama’s replacement in the U.S. Senate, Roland Burris, to throw out a ceremonial first pitch — unless it’s the Washington Nationals, who seem to have a knack for doing dumb things like misspelling their name as “Natinals” on their jersey fronts.

Washington's Adam Dunn (pictured) and Ryan Zimmerman took the field April 27 against the Marlins wearing "Natinals

Washington’s Adam Dunn (pictured) and Ryan Zimmerman took the field April 27 against the Marlins wearing “Natinals” jerseys — the “o” was missing from the logo. And Washington calls itself a major-league organization …

There is a lot of news in Illinois politics today — most notably, Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s decision to run for re-election to her current post rather than for governor or U.S. senator.

Madigan has done a good job as the state’s attorney general, and she deserves a shot at the governor’s mansion or a U.S. Senate seat someday. But for now, I’m glad she’s staying put. I think Pat Quinn, who became governor Jan. 29 after Rod Blagojevich was removed from office, deserves a chance to run for re-election without having to worry about Madigan, a fellow Democrat, stabbing him in the back.

Also consider that Madigan’s father, House Speaker Michael Madigan, is leading the battle against Quinn’s income tax hike and state budget proposals. Michael Madigan annually fought tooth-and-nail with Blagojevich when it was time to set a state budget. Part of the problem then was Blagojevich, but part of it also was perceived to be Madigan setting the governor up for a fall so his daughter could swoop in and save the state as the next governor. Now that Blagojevich is out of the way, Michael Madigan appears to be doing the same thing to Quinn. Lisa Madigan deserves better circumstances under which to run for governor — not at a moment in time when it looks like she might get the job just because Daddy Dearest pulled the right strings for her.

As for the U.S. Senate, I think Lisa Madigan is showing her political savvy by not entering what is expected to be a crowded field to replace Roland Burris. With so many candidates (including U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, who jumped into the fray today), that race will be an expensive one to run start to finish. For that matter, so will the gubernatorial race. (Five Republicans already have announced their intentions to run against Quinn — state Sen. Bill Brady, state Sen. Kirk Dillard, state Sen. Matt Murphy, DuPage County Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom and political commentator Dan Proft.)

Lisa Madigan turns 43 later this month, so she has youth on her side. God willing, she has plenty of time left to run for higher office. In the meantime, she can continue to serve Illinois in the capacity she has since her 2002 election as attorney general. She is one of the few elected officials we can hold our heads up high about in Illinois. If she keeps giving us good reason to hold her in high esteem, her star will keep rising. Her time for higher office will come.

Remember when Roland Burris tried to deflect criticism by saying, “I ain’t got no money to pay to play”? Turns out that was just another lie told by Pinocchio.

A financial disclosure required of all U.S. senators shows Burris earned $337,000 last year, including $118,000 from his Illinois state pension. The Chicago Tribune reports Burris earned $155,000 from his law firm and consulting business and $64,000 in fees for serving as a director of Inland Real Estate Corp.

The disclosure also shows Burris and his wife have assets of $900,000 to $1.8 million in publicly traded stocks, life insurance, mutual funds and a 25-percent interest in Kolmar Equities, a trust that owns land in Lynwood, Ill.

So much for not having any money, eh?

Today The Washington Post called on Roland Burris to resign his Blago-appointed seat in the U.S. Senate. The newspaper of record in our nation’s capital didn’t exactly go out on a limb to do this, but did it deserve a brush-off by Lynn Sweet, columnist and Washington bureau chief for the Chicago Sun-Times?

“On Monday, the Washington Post weighed in as if Burris would budge just because an out-of-state paper barked at him,” Sweet wrote on her Sun-Times blog.

So newspapers should keep quiet about Burris just because he has ignored all calls for him to resign thus far? I don’t think so.

* * *

Don’t forget to check back here later tonight for a recap of what Patti Blagojevich does today on “I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!”

Headline in Wednesday’s Chicago Sun-Times: “Day 2 in jungle: Patti gets immunity.”

Obviously I wasn’t the only person who noted the irony of Patti Blagojevich being granted immunity on “I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!” The headline I wrote for my Tuesday night review of the former Illinois first lady’s second day as a reality TV contestant: “Blagojevich granted immunity on ‘I’m A Celebrity.'”

As for Wednesday night’s episode of “I’m A Celebrity,” Blagojevich once again laid low. That seems to be her modus operandi. Too bad she can’t convince her husband to adopt that same philosophy — he appeared on CNN’s “Larry King Live” again Wednesday evening.

“It’s with mixed feelings that I watch her on this program, because on the one hand, I want her to do well. On the other hand, we’d like to have her home,” the former governor said.

Rod said “these are the sorts of things that happen sometimes when you’ve been knocked down and you’re trying to rebuild and pick yourself up.” He also said “she’s making a sacrifice because she loves her kids, and eating that tarantula like she had to is an act of love. It’s a sign that this is a mother who loves her children.”

Note to mothers: If your children ever question your love for them, eat a tarantula. It’s an act of love.

King asked Rod about Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation refusing to accept a donation made by NBC on Patti’s behalf for her participation on the show. Rod said he understands why Bear Necessities rejected the offer, but …

“We chose Bear Necessities because children’s health care was the central part of what I was, uh, about as the governor of Illinois,” Rod said.

Uh, sure, Blago. Whatever you say.

It is worth noting that Bear Necessities is affiliated with Children’s Memorial Hospital, which the former governor is accused of trying to shake down for a $50,000 campaign contribution in exchange for a state grant. I don’t blame the group for rejecting any money connected to the Blagojeviches.

Now Children’s Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla., is set to get the money. And now we know Patti is being paid as much as Rod would’ve gotten if His Hairness was in the Costa Rican jungle instead of his wife. (All contestants are paid salaries and NBC donates money to the charities of their choice. MSNBC afternoon anchor Tamron Hall apparently doesn’t realize this. On the air Wednesday afternoon, Hall told fellow MSNBC anchor David Shuster, “I’m still confused because she said she was doing it for charity, but then she said she needed the money for her family. Was she going to split it with the charity?” In the future, Hall should try harder to learn all the basic facts about a story before talking about it on the air.)

Of course, throughout his interview with King, Rod defiantly continued to maintain his innocence despite evidence to the contrary in wiretapped telephone conversations recorded by the FBI. But he also made a bit of news by revealing that convicted fundraiser Tony Rezko is “a central figure in this case,” which is tentatively set to begin in spring 2010.

“He sent a letter to a federal judge saying that neither President (then-Senator) Obama or me were involved in any wrongdoing with him,” Rod said. “Now suddenly he emerges in this case in a different light.”

Rod also said the Blagojeviches considered a wrongful termination suit against the nonprofit organization that fired Patti after Rod was arrested on federal corruption charges last December. He doesn’t think they will pursue it.

King asked Rod about the recently released, taped conversation between Sen. Roland Burris and the former governor’s fundraising brother, Robert Blagojevich.

“I think that tape speaks for itself. It’s a fundraising call,” Rod said.

The former governor summarily dismissed the Burris controversy thusly: “He said no. I made him a United States senator. I mean, it’s just the opposite of what’s being alleged.”

Except Burris didn’t say no to writing a check and organizing a fundraiser for the man who would make him senator. (Click here to read an excellent commentary piece about that lying scoundrel of a senator, written by former federal prosecutor Ronald Safer and published Wednesday in the Chicago Tribune.)

Speaking of Burris, I’ll end this post with a Roland-related link. Click here to see how you can make your very own Roland Burris “Pinocchio” paper doll. Believe me when I tell you it’s well worth the few seconds it will take you to follow the link.

Former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, the 2008 Libertarian Party nominee for president, weighed in today on the latest development in the Blagojevich-Burris saga. In his Atlanta Journal-Constitution column, Barr questioned Burris’s political savvy, considering the senator agreed to a live grilling by Chris Matthews on “Hardball”:

Still, the most incomprehensible aspect of this latest chapter in the Blagojevich-Burris soap opera is not the transcripts themselves, but the fact that Burris agreed to participate in a live phone interview with Chris Matthews on “Hardball” to discuss the surveillance tapes. Matthews, widely respected as one of television’s toughest and most well-prepared questioners, peppered Burris with questions about the clear meaning of the tapes, as Burris lamely attempted to explain them away. The fact that Burris agreed to participate in such a losing proposition as to try and best Matthews on live TV, raises a serious question about the senator’s capacity to remain in office. That his staff let him make such a foolish move raises similar questions about the competency of his staff.

Barr is right. Burris was foolish to “play Hardball,” and he isn’t cutting the mustard as a U.S. senator. But many of us in Illinois knew that would be the case before Burris even took office.

Burris should resign from the Senate. The Springfield State Journal-Register today urged Burris to do just that — resign and put an end to this whole sad episode. Unfortunately, we all know he won’t heed such advice. Burris is too much like his partner-in-crime, Rod Blagojevich, to resign before embarrassing Illinois further.

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