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Burris calling on party leaders for 2010 run; has no political organization, no substantive fund-raising plan

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WASHINGTON -- As I am sitting down with Sen. Roland Burris to discuss his Senate career to date and his future election plans, Burris gestures toward the front of his office to point out that he is using Paul Simon's desk and Barack Obama's chair.

Appointed by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich to replace Obama after he won the presidency, Burris seems to relish the connection with the two former Democratic senators from Illinois.

"With my experience, my knowledge of Illinois, my knowledge of Washington, I think I am right on course," Burris is telling me. He is wearing City of Chicago cuff links.

"Naturally, all of the flak caused re-adjustment and sort of a setback."

Burris has had substantial fallout to deal with from his stormy beginning in the Senate -- stemming mostly from whether he gave misleading statements about his dealings with Blagojevich cronies while Blagojevich was under federal investigation for, among other corruption charges, allegedly trying to sell Obama's seat. He has hanging over him a Senate Ethics Committee probe and a Sangamon County state's attorney investigation.

Despite calls for him to resign -- Sen. Dick Durbin, the Senate assistant majority leader, said if he were in Burris' shoes, he would quit -- Burris dug in. "I'm not going anywhere," Burris told me. "I didn't pay any attention to that."

On the government side, Burris has an operation up and running in Washington and in regional offices in Illinois. In mid-April Burris moved from temporary quarters to more space in the Russell Senate Office Building. After a bumpy start -- a chief of staff left a few weeks after Burris was sworn in last January -- Burris has put together a seasoned staff who know their way around the Capitol. Burris told me he has not heard from the ethics panel.

He joined the Veterans' Affairs and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees. He attends a weekly prayer group with other senators. He is a reliable Democratic vote. He co-hosts with Durbin the Illinois constituent breakfast. He is working on small business and minority hiring issues. The only African American in the Senate, Burris is active in the Congressional Black Caucus.

Burris has earned an unusual reputation for diligently going -- and staying -- at hearings most other senators jump in and out of.

"He's been a very faithful member of the committee," Homeland panel chairman Sen. Joe Lieberman told me. ". . . He does not act as if there is a cloud over his head. It's interesting. He just goes about trying to be a good senator."

Sen. Susan Collins, the ranking Republican on the committee, told me Burris "comes to virtually every hearing we have in Homeland Security and he asks good questions."

With Lieberman and Collins, Burris is on a bill to give state officials -- such as the comptroller he once was in Illinois -- more money to administer the economic stimulus package. He also has sponsored two "private bills" to prevent the deportations of three Chicago area illegal immigrants from Bulgaria and Mexico. He has also submitted requests for scores of earmarks for Illinois projects scattered around the state.

Burris told me Sen. Charles Schumer invited him to a dinner, along with three other Senate Democrats appointed to the job to fill vacancies created by Obama -- New York's Kirsten Gillibrand, Delaware's Edward Kaufman and Colorado's Michael Bennet.

Schumer, said Burris, was "just wanting to make sure that we were getting the grasp of the Senate and if we had any issues and we can bring things to him if we have any problem."

I asked Burris if he took Schumer up on his offer. "He needs to write me a check for about $10 million." Noticing my startled look, Burris said, "just kidding."

Burris wants to jump in the 2010 election, despite longshot odds. Durbin will not support him. The Senate Democratic political operation is trying to recruit Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to run. On the day we talked -- May 19 -- Burris met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to discuss his political future. Earlier, he conferred with Sen. Robert Menendez, the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. And the day before -- May 18 -- Burris called on William Daley.

"My impression is he is going to be a candidate," Daley told me.

But Burris may be sealing his own fate. He had $845 in a 2010 fund as of the last filing. He has no substantive fund-raising plan. He has not put together a political organization.

Delmarie Cobb, Burris' sole political consultant, said Senate Democrats "are supposed to embrace him and help him find the money. That's what they do for other incumbents."

I asked Burris about his timetable for deciding if he will run.

"Lynn . . . if you don't have money, whether or not you say you are going to run is not relevant. . . . You take away your option."

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on May 26, 2009 10:43 AM.

Obama taps Sotomayor, first Hispanic, third female for Supreme Court. Transcript. was the previous entry in this blog.

Burris caught on wiretaps with Blagojevich brother. Promised $1,500 Blago donation.Tapes released to Senate ethics panel. is the next entry in this blog.

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