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With 2010 elections underway, Illinois Sen. Roland Burris looks to future

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By Nia-Malika Henderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 2, 2010; 1:21 PM

CHICAGO - U.S. Sen. Roland W. Burris (D), whose last day in the upper chamber is weeks away, is already talking about a new gig: mayor of Chicago.

Burris, who was appointed to President Obama's old Senate seat by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, then under investigation for a pay-to-play scheme, says that his supporters are passing around petitions to draft him to run for the Windy City post. It's a job he ran for unsuccessfully in 1995 against Richard Daley, who is now leaving office.

As for that other candidate who already declared his mayoral candidacy, with Obama's blessing, Burris has a question: Rahm who?

"If I were to run, Rahm Emmanuel would be running against me," he said, adding that Obama's former chief of staff is a "nationally created individual."

"People in Chicago are not that enamored," he said.

Burris's Washington debut was one of the most memorable in recent years. He arrived with a crush of reporters on a rain-soaked day to seek his seat, with fellow Democrats questioning his appointment. He still thinks his story hasn't been fully told.

"Nobody has presented the truth. There was nothing there in terms of perjury, in terms of pay to play," he said. "All I did was took the appointment from the governor."

Burris was admonished by the Senate Ethics Committee, but no charges were pursued. He decided not to run for election. After he leaves Congress, a hefty legal bill of nearly $600,000 awaits Burris.

Blagojevich, who was impeached as governor two years ago, faced 23 counts related to Obama's Senate seat and was found guilty on a lesser charge of making false statements to the FBI. Most recently, Blagojevich has become a pitchman for pistachios.

In his Senate office overlooking downtown Chicago recently, Burris sounded bullish on his party's chances in Tuesday's midterm elections.

"We are going to win Illinois governor and Senate [seat], and we're going to keep the House of Representatives and the Senate," he said. "That's the Burris prediction."

Across the state Tuesday, candidates up and down the ballot were making their final push for votes. Republican Senate candidate Rep. Mark Kirk, 51, spent the morning greeting commuters in Chicago and planned to head to Highwood, a suburb, to vote. His election-night gathering is also in the suburbs, and his chances of success in this race, where he has a slight lead according to the last polls, depend on suburban turnout.

And radio listeners in Chicago and other urban areas, might have heard Obama imploring them to vote Tuesday morning: He appeared in a taped segment on the Steve Harvey radio show, on which he said that he needed supporters for his agenda.

Obama has pulled out all the stops for Democrat Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias, 34, visiting the city three times for fundraisers and rallies. He also appears in campaign ads for Giannoulias, the state treasurer, as does the first lady.

Burris is the fourth black U.S. senator since post-Reconstruction, and after his term ends, there won't be any African Americans in the U.S. Senate. The black candidates running for Senate in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida are trailing badly in the polls.

"It's an embarrassment on the American electorate not to have African American representation in the most deliberative and highest-ranking body in this country," Burris said. "It should be corrected, but I don't think it will be done in this new Congress."

Illinois voters actually have to vote twice for U.S. Senate (don't worry, it's legal), one vote for filling Burris's term and another for the next full six-year term. There's an off chance there could be a split decision - this is Illinois after all.


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