Hot on HuffPost:

See More Stories

Sen. Roland Burris Deplores Lack of Blacks in Senate in Farewell Speech

4 years ago
  0 Comments Say Something  »
Text Size
In his farewell Senate speech, Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) on Thursday deplored the fact that he is the only African-American in the Senate, and when he leaves on Nov. 29 there will be none.
That's the day Republican Rep. Mark Kirk, who won the Nov. 2 election, is sworn in to fill the remainder of President Obama's original term.
For Burris, serving in the Senate was the "opportunity of a lifetime," he said from the Senate floor, making no mention that he arrived cloaked in controversy because he was appointed by a governor accused of trying to sell Obama's old seat.
"When the 112th Congress is sworn in this coming January, there will not be a single black American who takes the oath of office in this chamber," Burris said to a nearly empty Senate. "This is simply unacceptable. We can, and we will, and we must do better.
"In this regard, and in any other, our political progress has proven less accessible -- and less representative -- than it ought to be, and although I have never allowed my race to define me, in a sense, it has meant that my constituency as a United States senator has stretched far beyond the boundaries of Illinois," he said
There have only been six African-American senators, three of them Chicago Democrats: former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, now running for Chicago mayor, Obama, and Burris, who was a political has-been when he accepted the tainted appointment from Rod Blagojevich after the former governor was arrested on Dec. 9, 2010 on a variety of public corruption charges. Blagojevich earlier this year was convicted of just one charge -- lying to federal agents -- and next year faces a retrial on 23 other criminal counts.
Burris, 73, was sworn in on Jan. 15, 2009, fulfilling a longtime ambition to one day be a vice president or a senator, he said from the Senate floor, presenting a sanitized version of events that led him to the chamber.
His dream took longer to achieve than he thought. "But in a towering testament to the American Dream, that day came," he said.
During his farewell address, only four senators were on the floor, and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) was not one of them.
Burris and Durbin have had a chilly relationship, stemming from the circumstances over Burris taking the appointment from Blagojevich. The Senate vowed never to seat a Blagojevich appointee, but relented for a variety of reasons, including that Burris would be replacing Obama, who was the only African-American in the Senate when he served.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Durbin struck a deal with Burris: if he testified truthfully before the Illinois General Assembly's Blagojevich impeachment committee about the circumstances of his appointment, the Senate would seat him.
It turned out that Burris' testimony was less than candid, and the Senate Ethics Committee admonished him for providing "incorrect, inconsistent, misleading or incomplete information" to the impeachment panel and that his actions "reflected unfavorably on the Senate."
Burris survived the ethics inquiry. I interviewed Burris recently and he told me he had a "great time" as senator. "It is a great group." He said Reid eventually apologized to him, and "that's why you saw me being treated as any other senator."
Always ambitious, Burris, a former Illinois attorney general and comptroller, finally realized that he had no path to running in 2010 to keep the seat. At first he thought he would have the automatic support of Illinois Democrats because he was the incumbent, but that was never to be. Durbin and the Obama White House tried to recruit a strong contender for the spot, though that also never came to be -- Kirk beat Democratic Senate nominee Alexi Giannoulias, the state treasurer.
Settling into the Senate, Burris carved out a career noteworthy for speaking out on minority issues and for the number of hours he presided over the Senate -- a time-consuming job in which he gladly took over the shifts of other senators with something else to do. In his farewell address, Burris noted that he earned two golden gavels -- souvenirs for presiding more than 200 hours.
"People thought I was being shunned and I was being ignored, and I was having a great time trying to know more and learn the Senate," Burris told me in our interview. A consistent Democratic progressive, Burris said one of his proudest achievements was pushing for a public option in the health care bill, though the Obama White House walked away from what was going to be a losing battle.
Burris traveled extensively on taxpayer-funded official congressional delegations during his 22 months in the Senate. In 2009, he visited London between Sept. 1 and 6 and Iraq, to meet with Illinois National Guard members, Nov. 19-25. In 2010, Burris was in China Jan.12 -14 and in Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti April 4-10. An August trip to Taiwan was paid for by the Taiwan government.
A member of the Home Security and Governmental Affairs and Armed Services Committees, Burris also visited the U.S.-Mexico border near San Diego, Fort Hood and military installations in Colorado and Nebraska.
Burris leaves the Senate with $630,000 in legal bills stemming from his seating and ethics battles and owes $130,000 to his political action committee. He told me he may seek employment as a lawyer, a lobbyist or on a corporate board.
Filed Under: Senate, Race Issues, Congress

Our New Approach to Comments

In an effort to encourage the same level of civil dialogue among Politics Daily’s readers that we expect of our writers – a “civilogue,” to use the term coined by PD’s Jeffrey Weiss – we are requiring commenters to use their AOL or AIM screen names to submit a comment, and we are reading all comments before publishing them. Personal attacks (on writers, other readers, Nancy Pelosi, George W. Bush, or anyone at all) and comments that are not productive additions to the conversation will not be published, period, to make room for a discussion among those with ideas to kick around. Please read our Help and Feedback section for more info.

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum Comment Moderation Enabled. Your comment will appear after it is cleared by an editor.


Filter by:

Thank you Senator Burris for your many years of service to this thankless country. Your exit comments were and are on point and ernest. Will America
ever learn and/or atone for its obsession with marginalizing, disrespecting and
maligning the only immigrants who arrived on these shores involuntarily, and
yet are the most patriotic and prolific in generosity of any American citizens?

Apparently not, as it seems that America will never mend its ways in time for atonement for its sins towards Americans stolen from Africa. It will be, and is, the Achilles Heel of this faltering sovereignty built by the disenfranchised, and misruled by the shameless.

December 15 2010 at 12:49 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Thanks Sen Burrris for your service.

December 09 2010 at 12:05 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

People should be elected to office based on thier abilities not on thier skin color! So what if there is only one, or if there are no blacks in the congress, it just means that none ran for office or none are deemed to be the best for the job by the voters! Come on people, don't be so stupid!

December 09 2010 at 3:57 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Mr. Burris I have a plan, draft Alan Keyes, Walter Williams, James Watt, or Star Parker and a few others that I cannot remember the names and watch the numbers in the Senate grow. I believe they would represent ALL Americans.

November 19 2010 at 6:24 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

Good grief the president is black, well half black, it never ever ends!

November 19 2010 at 1:53 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

You Blacks don't get it. You make up 13% of this nations people, maybe less; if you can do the math and round to the nearest whole number, the answer is 1 out of every 100 folks! So, in a government organization, like the Senate in this case, how many Black Senators do you think you should have out of 100 Senators? If you go by population percentages the answer is 1! That happens to be exactly what you have in the Senate! I guess that math does come in handy for something, who woulda thunk it! I know, I know, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and the NAACP's answer is like 50 right!? The sooner Blacks realize things like Affirmative action and playing the race card only makes you weaker, the better off you will be as a race!

November 18 2010 at 9:47 PM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ddscorp1's comment

1 out of a 100 is 1% NOT 13%. Since blacks are 13% of the population then there should be 13 Black Senators in the Senate since 13% of a hundred Senators ( 2 for each State) is 13. You must have flunked math!!

November 19 2010 at 7:56 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply

He had the chance to run for office and increase the numbers of blacks by a factor of 1. He did not run ! Go figure !!!

November 18 2010 at 9:03 PM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to luvtopleaze's comment

I agree, What the Heck is an "AFRICAN AMERICAN"?? Is that different then an American-American? What part of Africa are they from? This country is run by American-Americans regardless of thier skin color. We need to be working to be as one not trying to find ways to devide us.

December 09 2010 at 4:02 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Follow Politics Daily

  • Comics
Featuring political comics by Robert and Donna TrussellMore>>
  • Woman UP Video
politics daily videos
Weekly Videos
Woman Up, Politics Daily's Online Sunday ShowMore»
politics daily videos
TV Appearances
Showcasing appearances by Politics Daily staff and contributors.More>>