Sen. Roland Burris Abandons Reelection Bid, Citing Fundraising Hurdles

By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 11, 2009

CHICAGO. July 10 -- Six months into his tenure as a U.S. senator, Roland W. Burris (D-Ill.) acknowledged the inevitable Friday and announced that he will not run for election next year.

Burris, plucked from political retirement by an indicted governor to fill the Senate seat vacated by President Obama, told a few dozen supporters in a Chicago hotel that he did not want to spend time raising the millions of dollars he would need to compete.

"The business of the people of Illinois," he said, "should always come first."

Burris, the only African American member of the Senate, did not mention that the contest was almost certainly unwinnable, thanks to his political isolation in Washington and Illinois and his shifting explanations after now-ousted governor Rod Blagojevich (D) appointed him. He made no reference to the controversy, and stood beaming as the audience chanted, "Run, Roland, Run."

Burris's announcement comes in the twilight of a political career that saw him become the first African American elected statewide in Illinois but also lose three races for governor and one for the Senate.

Once he was chosen by Blagojevich, Burris volunteered significantly less than the whole truth about his contacts with the governor's team. He then refused to quit when the Senate opened an ethics investigation and the state's senior Democrats, Gov. Pat Quinn and Sen. Richard J. Durbin, called on him to resign.

Barring a surprise, the 71-year-old will finish Obama's term in January 2011, just as he had hoped. On the stone wall of a Chicago mausoleum, already etched with his accomplishments, Burris's latest title will fit nicely.

"I think he saw that he couldn't win," Chicago political consultant Don Rose said. "He couldn't raise the money. He wouldn't have the support from anything resembling the political establishment, and it would be more humiliating to be turned out of office than to retire."

Burris raised just $845 in campaign contributions during the first quarter.

On Capitol Hill, a Democratic staffer who has been closely following the Burris situation described "equal parts relief that Burris saw the obvious -- there was no way he could win -- and frustration that it took him this long to get there."

Those listening to Burris's announcement, however, were admirers who believe he was treated poorly by the media and the Democratic leadership.

"I'm very sad, and I really think he should rethink it," said Barbara Boyd, a limousine company employee who has known Burris for 15 years. "People are forgiving. He might have made mistakes, but he's an honest man."

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