Blagojevich Has History With Senate Choice
Back in 2002, Roland W. Burris was a three-time losing candidate for governor who bluntly declared that his political career was over. He wondered aloud whether he had reached a "concrete ceiling" for blacks in Illinois state government and declared that the run would be his "last political outing."
Now he could wind up being appointed to the U.S. Senate, if Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has his way.
Blagojevich, who has been charged with allegedly trying to sell that very Senate seat, is embroiled in one of the biggest political scandals in recent memory. He has rebuffed calls to step down. Senate Democrats have said that they won't seat any candidate appointed by the embattled governor.
Blagojevich has a years-long political relationship with Burris. He was the candidate who defeated Burris in the 2002 Democratic gubernatorial primary. Shortly thereafter, he acknowledged that Burris's race was a factor at the polls and promised that if elected in November he would reach out to Burris for his knowledge and experience.
"By my acknowledgement the color of his skin was something that hurt him and he didn't have a fair shake like I did," Blagojevich said, according to the Chicago Defender. The governor-elect later appointed Burris to be vice-chairman of his transition team.
In the early years of the governor's term, Burris came under scrutiny after he lobbied the governor for a $10 billion state bond sale. His consulting firm received a $5,000-a-month retainer for six months with the company that ended up brokering those bonds.
At the time, Burris said he simply arranged meetings with the governor's staff so the bond brokers could make their case directly to people with power, according to The Associated Press. "We did not do anything other than what any lobbyist would do," Burris said. "We make sure they have access to the decision-makers in government and they have to sell themselves."
Questions also surfaced in 2004 about Burris's consulting firm, when it was awarded a $150,000 state contract to advise disadvantaged businesses on how to improve their operations and ultimately win state contracts. Burris said politics played no role in his firm obtaining the contract.
"There's definitely no connection," Burris told Copley News Service. "It's all straight up. We bid on it."
In 2006 and 2008, Burris was invited to pricey fundraisers for the governor and told the Chicago Tribune that he had maintained a "friendship" with Blagojevich. He later became the interim chairman of the governor's commission on state pensions and Burris and his consulting firm donated at least $20,000 to Blagojevich for his last re-election bid.
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