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This being the new Obama Era, it’s no longer so cool to engage in racial politics or bald power struggles—we’re all just trying to find the right way to work together for justice and the common good. Especially when it comes to questions about the state’s open U.S. Senate seat and far-too-occupied governorship.
Whether Rod Blagojevich’s crude attempts at dealmaking crossed the line into an impeachable offense or wire fraud will presumably be determined in the coming months, but available evidence suggests that he put a lot of thought, if you will, into who would take Barack Obama’s place in the Senate. It’s no coincidence that, once the feds helped him narrow his choices, he offered the gig to Danny Davis and then Roland Burris—two veteran black politicians who, despite the occasional expression of self-regard or deference to leaders of religious cults, have stayed clear of political sleaze.
Just a few weeks ago Blagojevich apparently thought he had a shot at being picked for Obama’s cabinet, even though he’s been under federal investigation for several years; it’s not hard to see that he still believes he can make a political comeback, and that he’s going to launch it in the black community. Black people must love him—after all, he long ago learned to go before James Meeks’s congregation and holler, “Let me ask you one question: Are you with me? Or am I by myself?”
I think he’s mostly by himself at this point—but that doesn’t mean some black politicians, ministers, and community activists won’t play along with him for a little while to get something they want. With the whole nation watching, including the white Democratic leadership in the Senate, they just don't want to come out and say so.
Such was the case this afternoon when about a dozen “grassroots” leaders held a press conference outside the Thompson Center to demand that Burris be seated in the Senate next week.
Surrounded by a thicket of over-eager reporters and camera crews—some bickering over who should get to stand closest to the activists—former mayoral candidate William “Dock” Walls promised there would be “repercussions in the next election” if Illinois secretary of state Jesse White doesn’t certify Burris’s appointment and Senator Dick Durbin doesn’t escort him into the Senate.
“This is an opportunity for them to do the right thing,” said Walls. “And if they don’t, there will be greater action.”
Walls said Burris had the support of “grassroots people in Chicago unlike anyone else who could have been appointed” and argued that his voice would be desperately needed in Congress during Obama’s first 100 days. He shrugged off a reminder that Obama has said he can’t support anyone picked by Blagojevich. “He can express his personal opinion, but this has nothing to do with him,” Walls said.
And of course Walls stressed that it has nothing to do with Burris’s race either. Plenty of people alienated by Blagojevich’s shallowness might agree that black representation in the Senate is an important issue. Not Walls. “This should not be viewed as a racial issue,” he insisted. “Roland Burris’s resume is excellent, and he should be seated on his merits. If he is not seated, no one can argue that this is a fair or judicious process.”