Opinion: Bye-bye Burris: Obama’s tainted Senate replacement won’t run in 2010


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(UPDATE: As predicted Burris did announce Friday that he will not seek election in 2010.)

If you were thinking of running for Barack Obama’s old U.S. Senate seat from Illinois but were holding off because of incumbent Roland Burris’ intention to run next year, change of plans.

Looks like on Friday afternoon in Chicago, a time designed to minimize public attention, the 71-year-old Democratic veteran of Illinois’ bare-knuckles brand of politics will announce he’s decided not to run in 2010. Purely his own choice, of course. And all for the better of his state.


The first clue actually came when Illinois Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich, now indicted for trying to auction off his nomination to fill the new president’s vacant Senate chair, chose Burris as one of his final official acts before impeachment.

That tainted nomination, initially resisted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his No. 2, Dick Durbin, also of Illinois (see smiley photo above), eventually went through after a face-saving song-and-dance ...

... routine and certification by the Illinois Legislature, also controlled by Democrats, amazingly.

The second sign of political doom came as the Senate’s other 99 members shunned Burris, who saw his appointment to the exclusive club as a career-topping moment for a poor black man growing up in Republican downstate Illinois.

Although he never lost to a Republican, the former state controller and attorney general hasn’t won an election in 19 years, losing primary bids for the governor’s office and a run at being mayor of Chicago, when he knew darn well that office belongs to the Daley family.

Had Burris run for election next year, Republican Rep. Mark Kirk would have had a good chance of knocking him off and ruining the Democrats’ new 60-seat thing in Washington.


But first Burris would have certainly faced opposition in a Democratic primary (Durbin ensured that by spreading word he would not support his party colleague), as the party’s powerful clans quietly come together to dump Burris, like everyone choosing the other team in a schoolyard game of dodgeball.

At least two Democrats have indicated their interest in possibly seeking the Obama-Burris seat -- Cheryle Jackson, president of the Chicago Urban League, and Chris Kennedy (yes, that famous family’s in the Midwest too), son of former U.S. Atty. Gen. and N.Y. Sen. Robert Kennedy.

Another sign of serious trouble: During the first quarter of 2009, Burris’ candidacy raised a grand total of $845. The word was out back home: Let him hang.

Another problem, of course, was Burris’ evolving memory about contacts he may or may not have had with Blagojevich (photo, right), or possibly the ex-governor’s brother, about maybe perhaps raising money, although no one but a cynic would ever think that could affect the Senate appointment. Burris maintained there had been none, but as evidence emerged to the contrary -- those pesky wiretap transcripts again -- Burris allowed as how maybe there had been some.

On Wednesday, Illinois Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan said she’d run for reelection, rather than the Senate or challenge the new Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, who has his own share of troubles facing a 2010 campaign. With the state budget deeply in the red -- as the exiting Blagojevich accurately predicted -- Quinn has earnestly proposed a recipe for rejection: a huge income tax increase during a recession and just before an election.

Originally, Quinn was merely a political placeholder added to the winning Blagojevich ticket because somebody needed to be lieutenant governor. Quinn was so influential that during Blagojevich’s last 18 months in office the governor never felt the need to even talk with Quinn. (Good thing too as it turned out, given all the Fed wiretapping going on in the Land of Lincoln.)

So Quinn may be allowed to hang too. Until someone better happens to emerge before next spring’s primary.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo credits: Susan Walsh / Associated Press; M. Spencer Green / Associated Press