Burris Won’t Run for Re-Election, Says Fundraising Would Burden Him
July 10, 2009 - 6:28 PMEmbattled Illinois Sen. Roland Burris said Friday he won't run for a full term in 2010, making official the end of a short Senate career clouded by questions about his appointment by disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Burris, the only black U.S. senator, said he was bowing out of the 2010 race because of the burden of raising money to pay for a campaign.
"I was called to choose between spending my time raising funds, or spending my time raising issues for my state. I believe that the business of the people of the state of Illinois should always come first," said Burris, who complained political campaigns have gotten too expensive.
"And so today, I have returned to the place where my political journey began back in 1978, back to the South Side of Chicago, back to my community and my constituency to announce, my friends, that I will not be a candidate in the 2010 election, and that I will not run for the United States Senate," he told supporters who minutes earlier had chanted, "Run, Roland, Run!"
"I feel as if the people of Illinois have lost the most experienced and most qualified person to represent them in the United States Senate based on finances, based on a simple matter of campaign fundraising," said Melvin Sims, a Chicago attorney.
Burris' decision caps a long political career that included stints as Illinois' comptroller and attorney general.
Blagojevich appointed Burris to the seat once held by President Barack Obama in December, just weeks after the then-governor was arrested on charges of trying to sell the seat.
After his appointment, Burris fought waves of criticism, opposition from fellow Democrats, court battles and even a perjury investigation. He seemed to acknowledge the travails of the last seven months in his announcement.
"Serving in public life is not easy, but it is a noble and rewarding calling," he said.
Senate Democratic leaders initially vowed not to seat him, but eventually relented when he agreed to give sworn testimony about his appointment to an Illinois panel that was considering impeaching Blagojevich.
He told that panel he had talked to only one Blagojevich associate about the Senate post before it was offered, but later acknowledged other conversations. He denied having any discussions of campaign donations, but it turned out federal investigators had recorded him talking to Blagojevich's brother about the possibility of raising money for the governor.
Burris has maintained he did nothing improper to get the seat. A prosecutor who looked into whether Burris should be charged with perjury for his incomplete testimony to the impeachment panel concluded it would be impossible to prove.
Burris' fundraising has been lackluster; he raised only $845 during the first three months of 2009. Polls have shown he has little voter support and he doesn't have the backing of top Illinois politicians, including fellow Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, who has said repeatedly he would not support Burris for a full term.
Burris has often tried to avoid the media during his time in office and did not answer questions after his announcement. Reporters were roped off in an area behind 50 or so supporters at a South Side hotel.
Equality Illinois political director Rick Garcia said he thinks Burris made the right decision, but he attended Friday's event to show his support because the Chicago Democrat has been a backer of the gay community.
"One thing about good politics is you're not only with people who are on their way up, you've got to be with them on their way out," Garcia said.
Burris' decision is the latest major development in the closely watched Senate race in Illinois. On Wednesday, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who would have been a likely front-runner in the Democratic primary, also opted out of the race to seek another term as the state's top lawyer.
Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias plans to seek the Democratic nomination and the other Democrats are considering getting in too, including Christopher Kennedy, a Chicago businessman and son of the late Robert F. Kennedy, and Chicago Urban League president Cheryle Jackson.
Republican Rep. Mark Kirk is looking at a GOP bid for the seat.
Associated Press Writer Henry C. Jackson in Washington contributed to this report.
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