WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris was rebuffed in the U.S. Senate today as he tried to enter the venerated chambers and take his seat, as the successor to president-elect Barack Obama appointed by embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
"My credentials were not in order, I will not be accepted, I will not be seated," Burris, 71, told a reporters who had followed him across the street for a news conference in a cold and steady rain outside the Capitol.
The former Illinois attorney general said he was "not seeking to have any type of confrontation" over taking the seat that he was appointed to by embattled Gov. Rod Blagojevich. But Burris, who would be the Senate's only Black member, also said he was considering a federal lawsuit to force Senate Democrats to seat him.
In what has become a racially tinted controversy, President-elect Barack Obama has rebuffed the man chosen by Illinois' scandal-scarred governor to replace him as the only African-American senator in Congress.
While state lawmakers debated whether to begin the impeachment process for their embattled governor, Rod Blagojevich had tapped former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to fill Obama's vacated Senate seat on Tuesday.
But the president-elect, while lauding Burris as eminently qualified, sided with Senate Democratic leaders, who said federal corruption charges against the governor tainted the nominee.
"Senate Democrats made it clear weeks ago that they cannot accept an appointment made by a governor who is accused of selling this very Senate seat," Obama said in a Dec. 30 statement.
During a press conference the same day, Blagojevich had announced his choice, referring to Burris as a "wise and distinguished senior statesman" with "unquestioned integrity."
Blagojevich added, "Please don't let the allegations against me taint this good and honest man."
Standing at Blagojevich's side during the press conference, Burris said, "Faced with these challenges and challenged with these crises, it is incomprehensible that the people of the great state of Illinois will enter the 111th Congress short-handed. We need leadership in Washington."
Blagojevich has been under tremendous pressure to resign as governor since his arrest earlier this month on charges linked to his alleged attempts to "sell" Obama's Senate seat to "the highest bidder."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has warned Blagojevich that Senate Democrats will not seat anyone the governor appoints.
"It is truly regrettable that…Gov. Blagojevich would take the imprudent step of appointing someone to the United States Senate who would serve under a shadow and be plagued by questions of impropriety," Reid said in a statement.
Still, other lawmakers felt there were more important considerations, including the pink elephant in the room—race.
Congressional Black Caucus member Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., warned Democrats yesterday that blocking a qualified African-American candidate to fill the seat of the soon-to-be first Black commander-in-chief may not be wise.
"I will ask you to not hang and lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointer," Rush told Democratic leaders during the Chicago news conference with Blagojevich and Burris. "Let me just remind you that there presently is no African-American in the U.S. Senate. I don't think that anyone — any U.S. senator who's sitting in the Senate right now — wants to go on record to deny one African-American for being seated in the U.S. Senate."
Burris, 71, who served as Illinois Attorney General from 1991 to 1995, is a graduate of Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C.
He was born and raised in the small Southern Illinois community of Centralia and received his B.A. degree in political science from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He rose from tax accountant of the Continental Illinois National Bank to become the bank's vice president. And in 1973, he became director of the Illinois Department of General Services.
In 1978, Burris was elected comptroller, becoming the first African-American elected to statewide constitutional office in Illinois.
In 1995, Burris ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Chicago, losing to incumbent Richard Daley, and in 1998 and 2002 he made unsuccessful bids for the Democratic nomination for governor of Illinois.
Burris is currently manager/CEO of Burris & Lebed Consulting LLC, a public relations and political strategies firm; he also serves as counsel to Gonzalez, Saggio and Harlan, an influential Chicago-based law firm.
Burris is married to Berlean Burris, Ph.D. They have a son and a daughter.
Story by Sean Yoes, special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspapers and wire reports. Zenitha Prince contributed to this story.