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Clouds Gather Over Roland Burris
Blagojevich had other ideas. In Burris, he found an unobjectionable nominee and essentially dared the U.S. Senate to try to block him. The Democratic leadership quickly folded, following a memorable scene in the rain outside the Capitol, where Burris reported that he had been turned away.
The new junior senator was going about his business, mostly without a staff, when news broke Saturday that he had filed a fresh affidavit with a new account of dealings with five Blagojevich associates. A pair of subsequent news conferences produced still more variations, each one more troubling than the last.
Burris has moved from a Jan. 5 assertion that he had no contact with Blagojevich or his representatives to an admission this week that he tried to raise money for the governor while seeking the Senate seat. He said he was unable to find anyone willing to give and soon abandoned the effort, concluding that it would be improper.
"He has put himself in a very bad position," said Kelley, who said he believes Burris is honest. "As smart as he is, relative to standing up there before the press . . . he doesn't do as well as I would like him to."
On Wednesday, while offering details and explanations not contained in his early accounts, Burris declared, "I will continue to be transparent."
"This is one of the worst periods of Roland Burris's public life," said Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.), who was considered for the Senate seat but opposed the idea of a Blagojevich appointment. He described Burris as "a straight shooter, a square dude, a person that many other people would kind of joke about in terms of his honesty."
"He's probably saying, 'How did this ever happen? How did I, Roland Burris, end up with people thinking that I may have been engaged in not revealing information, or some nefarious deal-making?' "
Republicans and Democrats maddened by the state's seemingly endless political drama have called on Burris to quit, as did the Chicago Tribune. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who wants the job, said Gov. Pat Quinn (D) should remove Burris under the 17th Amendment and call a special election.
Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said Wednesday that Burris had not produced "the full disclosure under oath that we asked for." White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Burris was seated partly on the basis of early statements that he has since contradicted and that the people of Illinois "deserve to know the full extent of any involvement."
Laura Washington, a DePaul University professor and Chicago Sun-Times columnist, said that many African American politicians in Chicago have abandoned Burris, despite their early support when the Senate initially refused to seat him.
"The silence is deafening," she said. "There's a lot of outrage at Burris's lack of candor. I think he wanted this job really, really badly and basically spun the truth and shaved some things off the truth to get by."
Washington thinks that the rules have shifted in Illinois politics, and that Burris -- who says he did nothing improper by trying to raise money for Blagojevich while seeking the Senate seat -- was too slow to adjust.
"He could have gone out as being a revered, distinguished black officer," she said. "Instead, the last thing on that tombstone will be he didn't tell the truth when he should have."
Staff writer Kari Lydersen contributed to this report.