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02/27/2009

Burris Back on the Track

   What a difference a few days can make!  In our last post, Senator Roland Burris had lost control of his newfound career as the junior United States Senator from Illinois.  Even President Barack Obama's spokesman at the White House advised Burris to take the weekend (Feb 20-22) to give some serious thought to "what lays ahead" for the 71 year old lawyer who had been sworn into the Senate only a month earlier.

  Well, during that weekend Burris did more than give his future some thought.  He also hired a new political consultant, Delmarie Cobb, who immediately began re-shaping the debate over whether the appointed junior Senator should resign or remain on the job until the end of the current term in 2010.  Cobb is a longtime democratic strategist who had worked with Burris during one of his failed campaigns for governor and counts among her other past clients U.S. Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr..

  Simply put, Cobb played the race card.  When I interviewed Burris after following him to Washington earlier this week, he told me in an exclusive interview that it was important that he return to his job on Capitol Hill to vote on a bill that would add a member in the House to represent the predominantly black District of Columbia.  The next day, the solitary black voice in the U.S. Senate delivered a floor speech extolling the virtues of the bill.  A day later, Burris would sponsor a resolution passed by the Senate to honor the black slaves who carried and laid the stones in the construction of the very U.S. Capitol where the Congress meets.   Black folks in Illinois and around the country who watched C-Span presumably observed Burris with pride and approval.

  Meanwhile, back in Chicago, another race card hits the table.  Several African American city alderman, most of them members of the Cook County Central Democratic Committee, held a "Hands Off Roland Burris" news conference.  They issued a not-at-all-subtle warning to Democratic elected officials, including U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, Governor Pat Quinn, Attorney General Lisa Madigan and any others is listening range:  either stop your demands that Burris resign or face a revolt at the polls by African American voters. (Keep in mind that in past statewide elections, black voters have comprised as much as 40% of the total vote in the Democratic Party primary)   The next day, African-American lawyers announced their support for Burris and on Sunday, the Senator will attend a rally at the New Covenant Baptist Church where organizers expect hundreds, if not thousands of supporters. 

  During the same few days it took Burris to mount his counterattack, the forces urging him to resign and calling for a special election began backpedaling in a confused retreat.  The Governor repeated his call for a resignation but said he favored a special election only AFTER Burris quit.  Republican elected officials pointed to an opinion by Democrat Attorney General Lisa Madigan saying there's no need to wait for a resignation to call an election.  But Quinn says he can't support a Madigan-approved election because of legal questions.   "I'm fearful there would be this infinite litigation", said Quinn.   Bottom line is, there is no special election legislation moving in either the State House or Senate, and of course, Burris is giving no indication that he'll give up his Senate Seat.

  It could be that by the middle of next month, the Burris resignation demands would have all but stopped and stories about the special election (estimated cost $40-50 million) would have faded because the governor and state lawmakers will be grappling with a reported $9 billion budget deficit.  

  And how's this for snatching victory from the jaws of defeat:  Senator Roland Burris would have consolidated his political base in the African American Community.

   

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