Burris Stands Firm Despite Urging of Illinois Governor

By Peter Slevin and Kari Lydersen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 21, 2009

CHICAGO, Feb. 20 -- Sen. Roland W. Burris (D-Ill.) has no intention of quitting, his spokesman said Friday, despite a call for his resignation from Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) and a suggestion from White House spokesman Robert Gibbs that Burris ponder "what lies in his future."

Quinn called Burris a "wonderful human being" and a "dear friend" but said the embattled senator should "act as quickly as possible for the best interests of Illinois" and step down from the seat he has occupied since Jan. 15.

"To step aside would be a heroic act," Quinn told reporters in Chicago, "and I ask Roland to do it."

Burris, elected to four terms in statewide office, now appears all but alone in his fight to keep his job. He canceled all public events Thursday to confer with friends and stayed mostly out of view on Friday, which was to have been the fifth day of a statewide listening tour.

Spokesman Jim O'Connor said that Burris intends to return to Washington next week and get to work on Senate business.

"Senator Burris has again asked the public and elected officials to stop their rush to judgment and to allow all the facts to come out," O'Connor said. "There is a legal process moving forward, and he has promised to fully cooperate."

When Burris reaches Washington, he will be without his temporary chief of staff, Darrel Thompson, who quit Friday. He had been on loan from the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).

The Senate ethics committee and the Sangamon County state's attorney are investigating Burris's shifting statements -- three of them under oath -- about his talks with associates of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who appointed him on Dec. 28. Blagojevich has since been impeached.

Although Burris said in a Jan. 5 affidavit that he had not spoken with Blagojevich or any of his representatives about the Senate seat, his story has since evolved. He said this week that he spoke with at least five Blagojevich associates and tried to raise money for the then-governor while Burris was seeking the Senate appointment.

Gibbs noted the shifting accounts and signaled President Obama's displeasure. He said Burris should take time this weekend to see if he can "come up with an explanation that satisfies."

At a Chicago news conference, Quinn said Burris made "a big mistake, a gigantic mistake" in accepting the appointment three weeks after Blagojevich had been arrested on federal corruption charges.

"I believe Illinois is entitled to two senators like any other state. Now we have a senator with a cloud over his head," said Quinn, who supports new legislation that would create a special election to fill the seat if Burris departs.

The proposal would provide for a temporary appointee for about 120 days, the time it would take to hold an election. Quinn said he would seek an appointee who agreed not to run in the election.

Democrats in Springfield opposed changing the law in December, in part because they feared it would provide an opening for a Republican to win the seat. Blagojevich seized the chance to appoint Burris.

Quinn predicted Burris "will do the right thing and resign."

"I think when people of good will who are friends of Roland Burris, who have no ax to grind, tell him the best thing for the state of Illinois, which he loves, is for him to step aside, I think that message will get through."

One of Burris's biggest doubters in recent days has been Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), who has given two interviews to say that Burris failed to tell Illinois legislators the whole truth when he testified under oath on Jan. 8.

Durbin said Burris's future in the Senate is in question but stopped short of calling on him to quit.

Guessing whether Burris will stay has become a parlor game. State Rep. Julie Hamos (D) said Friday that he is likely to fight to keep his job.

"I think Roland Burris is a proud man," Hamos said. "My sense of him as a person is that, even though there is obviously a chorus of voices calling for his resignation, he won't resign."

University of Illinois political science professor Kent Redfield agreed.

"If it was anyone else, I would think he'd resign," Redfield said, "but I'm not sure he'd listen to people. He's very stubborn, has a huge ego, great pride. For him to resign, in terms of his personal image of himself, would be devastating."

But one Burris friend, Chicago radio host Cliff Kelley of WVON, thinks Burris will look for a graceful exit if the heat becomes too high.

"If he feels that all of this negative press has made it impossible for him to serve the people of Illinois, then he would say, 'There's no need for me to stay,' " Kelley said.

"The thing that will hurt him more than anything is to in any way diminish the good name that he has," Kelley went on. "If this continues, he may think it's not worth it. He is a senator, and he will have been a U.S. senator."

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