What Took Roland Burris So Long to step down?

This is one of those “I told you so” moments people in the media business live for. It was months ago that I wrote that Illinois Senator Roland Burris only had one honorable way to deal with his impossible situation. Reports now say he’ll take it, as I said he would. He has reportedly decided not to seek a full term next year.


He’ll make that announcement in Chicago on Friday, by the time some of you read this. To say Burris was doomed by his association with disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich is by now understatement.


Though he still says he did nothing wrong, the constantly changing nature of explanations he gave for his dealings with Blago effectively sealed his fate. He couldn’t raise much money for a race where he’d clearly need to spend a lot to clean up his image. That, and the fact that President Obama has been reportedly encouraging a challenger, any challenger to run against Burris in next year’s primary made a credible run all but impossible.

Thing is, he could have saved face and an awful lot of newsprint by opting not to run right off the bat. He might have even appeared statesmanlike in putting the good of his constituents above his own lofty ambition. Of course, it’s way too late for that now. Roland Burris may also have been swayed by the fact that few if any of his colleagues would give him more than the time of day. In a body known for its collegial underpinnings, that must have hurt.

Burris’ decision is made all the more interesting by the decision of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to seek re-election to her current post, and not to run for governor of Illinois or the Senate. The White House was courting her to run against Burris if he’d stayed in the race. For President Obama, it must feel like “now what”? This is, after all, his old Senate seat we’re talking about. On the other hand, he may be breathing a sigh of relief.

Whoever runs for that seat next year as a Democrat won’t be tainted by Rod Blagojevich (unless the Illinois Democratic Party loses its collective mind). And whoever it is won’t be Roland Burris. In a way, it’s sad. Burris wanted little more than to cap a political career with an elected term to the nation’s most prestigious lawmaking body. After all, he grew up during a time of rigid segregation, even in his home state.

Maybe it shouldn’t have ended this way. Yet it has. Roland Burris wanted that office so badly he made a deal with the devil to get it. In the end, he couldn’t hold on.

So now the question is this. Will the Democrats hold on to that crucial Senate seat when the votes are counted in November 2010.

I know it’s a long way off, but you tell me.


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