February 25, 2009
BY CAROL MARIN
Illinois just cannot catch a break. Tuesday afternoon, just as the nation's eyes were trained on our historic new president preparing to make a historic first address to both houses of Congress -- a lofty moment by any measure -- what the heck happens?
The senior senator from Illinois, Dick Durbin, takes the junior senator from Illinois, Roland Burris, to the woodshed, that's what.
Reporters and cameras clogged the Senate hallway to chronicle all the gory details and throw it up live on all the cables.
Sen. Durbin, for his part, delivered his remarks to the press in stern but careful Washington-speak rather than in the blunt language we tend to use on the streets of Chicago. What follows is a hometown translation:
DURBIN: "We talked about [the] entire set of circumstances that led to today."
TRANSLATION: I said, Roland, answering how many times you met with Blagojevich flunkies to lobby for this Senate appointment wasn't a bleeping multiple choice test: a. zero; b. one; c. five; d. all of the above.
DURBIN: "I said if I was in his shoes, I would resign."
TRANSLATION: I'm not in this clueless egomaniac's shoes, he's in his shoes.
DURBIN: There is a "feeling of disappointment of some of us in the Senate. . . . We were relying on his sworn testimony."
TRANSLATION: Everyone knew this guy, appointed by THAT guy, was tainted but Harry Reid and I didn't have the cojones to cross the Congressional Black Caucus and just say no.
DURBIN: "Sadly [his testimony] . . . was not complete."
TRANSLATION: Roland lied like a bookie to a grand jury.
DURBIN: Then, in a "second affidavit, he added other information."
TRANSLATION: Fool me once, shame on me . . . fool me twice, you know the rest.
DURBIN: "The Senate ethics committee is making a preliminary investigation. They will determine whether any action should be taken. . . . I'm not on that committee."
TRANSLATION: Oh, yeah, I'm the No. 2 most powerful Democrat in the Senate, but it's out of my hands.
DURBIN: "He [Burris] said he was still going to work hard to be the senator from Illinois [but] he's been limited in his ability to travel in our state due to his notoriety."
TRANSLATION: Can you spell p-a-r-i-a-h?
Late Tuesday, it became crystal clear that Roland Burris is not only refusing to quit. He's also digging in to fight to rehabilitate his reputation.
So says Delmarie Cobb, his media and political adviser, who said by phone Tuesday from her office in Chicago: "We all know that nobody wanted him to have this seat . . . he wasn't the choice of Democrats or Republicans, each of whom had their eyes on this seat."
Cobb, who is a veteran of many campaigns, including the presidential quest of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, is preparing for a new one: Burris' next race.
"Roland is going to stay in the Senate, going to stay until the people of Illinois decide if he should leave," she said.
"Petitions will begin to be circulated in September," she responded. "Then we'll see."
In other words, his eyes are pointed toward the 2010 election.
Cobb contends Burris was never on Obama's list of desirable replacements but says he served Obama's purpose by providing a crucial vote for the passage of his stimulus bill. And now, she argues, he's being savaged by his own party after an unblemished career.
"The only things the media could find on him was that his children were named Roland, there was a mausoleum and he had a big ego. There wasn't any dirt," Cobb said.
Now, Cobb says, Burris' enemies are trying to bloody him up and weaken him with mounting legal bills.
"And then it won't be called racism," said Cobb.
The battle lines are drawn -- and hardening.