Yesterday Rod ‘Pay to Play’ Blagojevich defied everyone by appointing former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to the United States Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.
Upon hearing the news, I decided to give Burris the benefit of the doubt and research him myself before offering an opinion.
The problem with this is I saw his interview last night on the Rachel Maddow Show and his defensive nature was off-putting, to say the least. Yes, it could have been related to the barrage of accusations that surfaced immediately following the announcement – all of which had to do with Blago’s troubles. But still, he is an attorney and now will represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate. A little decorum is expected.
I also wondered why anyone would accept an appointment by a governor who has been charged with corruption and a bi-partisan effort is underway to get Blago out of office whether through resignation or impeachment. I’m sure people immediately wondered what Burris’s role was in this mess.
So just who is Roland Burris?
He served as Illinois Comptroller from 1979 – 1991 and Attorney General from 1991-1995.
He is the CEO of Burris and Lebed Consulting
Burris is on the advisory council of Masters Academy. They offer a private Christian education to urban children in the Chicago area.
In the 2004 annual report for the National Center for Responsible Gaming, Burris is listed on the Board of Directors and as a contributor.
Burris unsuccessfully ran for Chicago Mayor in 1995, US Senate in 1984 and thrice ran unsuccessful campaigns for Illinois Governor (1994, 1998 and 2002).
The New York Times had this to say about Burris in 1998.
In some ways, Mr. Burris, 60, would seem like the perfect candidate. The highest-ranking African-American ever to be elected to state office in Illinois, he has substantial name recognition among voters, who know him from four years as Attorney General and 12 years as State Comptroller. His stewardships in those posts were generally viewed as competent and uneventful.
But close students of Illinois politics say Mr. Burris’s ambitions have been bedeviled by a mix of Democratic Party strategy, personal political allegiances, the candidate’s political conduct and recent campaign failures and race.
”In a number of ways he got pushed aside by the organization, often by specific candidates,” said Alan R. Gitelson, a political science professor at Loyola University in Chicago. ”Roland is one of the shrewdest politicians you’ll find in the state, but there’s always a detachment that existed from the party itself.”
Having grown up in the small town of Centralia in mostly white southern Illinois and moved to Chicago as an adult, he has never been easily pigeonholed as a candidate.
He has a track record of supporting issues of concern to African-Americans, because his formative experiences include efforts to integrate Centralia’s public swimming pool when he was 16, fighting racism at Southern Illinois University in the 1950’s as a student and providing loans for minority businesses while working for a large Chicago bank. But his moderate views on issues like taxation and government spending appeal to a broad spectrum.
A tailored dresser with a trim mustache, wire-rim glasses and chameleon-like charisma, Mr. Burris said that he believed the question of his race ”neutralizes itself.”
”It always has,” Mr. Burris said. ”Some people support me because I’m black. Some people won’t support me because I’m black.”
During that 1998 campaign for governor, Burris made a statement that generated some controversy.
The race issue also surfaced last month when a television station showed a tape of Mr. Burris’s referring to his opponents as ”nonqualified white boys” while speaking to an enthusiastic mostly black audience. Mr. Burris apologized for the remark, saying it was an innocuous comment made in response to suggestions that he pull out of the primary so the Democratic ticket would be more racially balanced. Whites make up about 70 percent of the Democratic voters in Illinois.
I found Burris in a Union Corruption Update newsletter from February 3, 2003.
Reeling from the expulsion of three organized crime members from its hierarchy, the new president of a Chicago Laborers union has asked that a frmr. state attny. general be appointed to oversee the union. But with Roland Burris having been a character witness for a Teamster expelled from office for associating with organized crime, it remains an open question whether Burris will be approved.
Last January, the “in-house judge” of the Laborers’ Intl. Union of N. Amer. permanently barred three relatives from holding office in Local 1001. Based on the testimony of law enforcement officials, frmr. mob associates, and informants under witness protection, Peter F. Vaira concluded that Bruno Caruso, his brother, Frank “Toots”, and their first cousin, Leo, had been associates of the mafia, known in Chicago as the “Outfit,” for more than 40 years.
LIUNA officials in Wash. D.C. are still accusing Local 1001 of corruption and other connections to the “Outfit” — a charge that, according to a news release, Local 1001 officials “stridently refute.” But on Jan. 17, Local bosses met with an unnamed “national union official” and “agreed to enter into a voluntary supervision agreement if Burris is appointed to that role.”
This is not Burris’s first involvement with allegedly corrupt unions. While serving as attny. gen. in 1994, Burris was a character witness for Robert T. Simpson Jr., frmr. pres. of Intl. Bhd. of Teamsters (IBT) Local 743. In spite of that testimony, the fed. Independent Rev. Bd. (IRB) ruled that Simpson had allowed Donald Peters to continue his influence of the Chicago local after Peters had agreed to have nothing to do with the union. Peters was named as a defendant in the 1988 fed. racketeering lawsuit against the IBT.
Burris has a questionable position on gay and lesbian rights. In the March 29, 2002 issue of Voyager – the online newspaper of Sauk Valley Community College, they stated that Burris ‘boasted of being a ‘trailblazer’ for the community by being the first elected officer to hire GBLT staff members. He stated that he pushed to include same sex partners in domestic violence legislation and fought to add sexual orientation to hate crime legislation.’
And then he was ‘asked about his stance on civil unions’. His reply? “What is that?”
So he falls into that position that he is fine with gay and lesbians – just as long as they can’t marry. I take offense whenever anyone plays dumb when asked an obvious question.
There is a tremendous amount of links out there for the 71 year old Burris. When putting this together, I only looked at links prior to 2008 and still barely scratched the surface. I will continue to peruse ‘the internets’ for anything additional but so far I hadn’t stumbled on anything that would incriminate Burris.
My reservations so far are his willingness to accept the nomination from a corrupt governor involved in a huge scandal, his ties to the corrupt Chicago unions, his stance on civil unions and his horrible record in political campaigns.
I’d like to learn more about his company Burris and Lebed.
I found no questionable activity from his time as Illinois Comptroller or Attorney General. His experience will bode well for a United States Senator and truth be told, I am glad that a qualified African-American was selected to fill Obama’s seat as the President-elects vacancy would have left the Senate without an African-American.
A Front Runner Fades and Some See Race Playing a Role – New York Times – March 13, 1998
National Center for Responsible Gaming – 2004 Annual Report
Union Corruption Update – February 2003
Voyager – Sauk Valley Community College