CHICAGO — Defying Senate leaders in Washington and a galaxy of political leaders here, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois announced Tuesday that he would fill the Senate seat of President-elect Barack Obama, which he has been accused of trying to sell.
Mr. Blagojevich said he would appoint Roland W. Burris, a former state attorney general who was the first African-American elected to statewide office in Illinois. The decision set off efforts to block the move by state legislators, the secretary of state, and, most significantly, Democratic leaders in the United States who said they would not seat anyone Mr. Blagojevich chose.
Still, even as the selection was clearly destined for battles on many fronts, Mr. Blagojevich sounded breezily confident as he introduced his appointee to reporters as the “next United States senator from Illinois.” Having been charged this month with conspiracy to commit fraud and bribery, he said the accusations against him should not taint Mr. Burris, whom he called “a good and honest man.”
Standing beside him, Mr. Burris, who, at 71, is seen by many here as an elder statesman in Democratic politics, seemed to brush aside gaping questions about how federal criminal charges against Mr. Blagojevich might tarnish his potential Senate tenure — and whether he would really ever make it to the Senate chamber in the first place.
“I’m honored that I have been appointed,” Mr. Burris said, “and we will deal with the next step in the process.”
Of the criminal case against Mr. Blagojevich, Mr. Burris said, “I have no relationship with that situation.”
Mr. Obama, on vacation in Hawaii and who, aides said, was surprised by the news of the appointment, issued a statement condemning the move.“Roland Burris is a good man and a fine public servant, but the 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,” Mr. Obama said. “I agree with their decision, and it is extremely disappointing that Governor Blagojevich has chosen to ignore it.”
The Senate Democratic caucus, which controls the chamber, issued a statement saying that no one appointed by the governor could be an effective representative, and that Mr. Burris would not be seated. It is not clear, however, whether the caucus can bar a qualified appointee, and the issue may be headed to court.The choice of Mr. Burris immediately injected the issue of race into the appointment process, which may very well have been part of the governor’s calculation. Representative Bobby L. Rush, Democrat of Illinois, who was called to the lectern at the news conference by Mr. Burris, noted that there were no blacks in the Senate and said that he did not believe any senator “wants to go on record to deny one African-American from being seated in the U.S. Senate.”
Senate Democrats are in a panic regarding Blagojevichgate. Try as they might, they can't shake the Blagojevich-sized albatross that is tightly wound around the collective liberal neck.
Who in their right mind would accept an appointment of any kind from such a tainted political figure? Is Burris the winner of the Blagojevich senate seat raffle?
Mr. Burris, a soft-spoken, never flowery speechmaker, seemed an unlikely person to be in this moment. Having been elected as state comptroller nearly three decades ago and later as attorney general, he left public office after a series of bids for governor (including a primary race against Mr. Blagojevich in 2002, in which Mr. Obama had endorsed Mr. Burris). His political career seemed to be over, and he went to work as a consultant at a firm that was formed in 2002, Burris & Lebed Consulting, and also as a lawyer.
Though Mr. Burris and Mr. Blagojevich are politicians of vastly different styles, they have had a political relationship in recent years. After the 2002 primary for governor, Mr. Burris encouraged Mr. Obama to endorse Mr. Blagojevich, and Mr. Burris served at one point as the vice chairman of the governor’s transition team.
Mr. Burris and his consulting firm (which has held, he said, at least one state contract) have made contributions to Mr. Blagojevich’s campaign fund, too: more than $9,000 in cash and in-kind contributions from his consulting firm and at least $4,500 from Mr. Burris personally, state records show. In June of this year, the records show, Mr. Burris gave the campaign $1,000.
Notice the president-elect's name all over this story. No reaction from Rahm Emanuel, Obama's chief of staff, yet.