Roland Burris, who is known to have an inflated view of his own wonderfulness, has said he believes "divine providence" destined him for high office. I'm beginning to wonder.
Seldom in political history has anyone risen so quickly from golden insider to political outcast -- and back again.
For years he was known for being a notable "first black." As Illinois comptroller from 1979 to 1991, he was the state's first black official to be elected statewide. But, after four years as the state's first black attorney general, he since tried to be senator, governor (three times) and Chicago mayor without winning even a nomination.
He is notable for having managed to commit few political sins, except maybe aggravated narcissism. The names of Burris' two children, Roland and Rolanda, are now nationally famous. So is his lavish mausoleum, with his resume etched in stone under the headline "Trailblazer" and with just enough space left at the bottom of the slab for more milestones.
How about, "first black appointed senator to be barred from entering a Senate that currently has no other African-American members?"
In the past week, the appointee of impeached Gov. Rod "Bleeping" Blagojevich arose overnight from being left out in the rain by his fellow Democrats in the Senate's leadership to being warmly embraced.
After Blagojevich was arrested last month for, among other charges, allegedly trying to sell President-elect Barack Obama's Senate seat, Senate Democrats voted unanimously to refuse any appointee sent by Blagojevich.
Although Burris promised not to cause a scene, he did precisely that by showing up for a swearing-in ceremony to which he knew he was not welcome -- not because of anything he had done, but because of the governor who sent him.
If Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid actually thought his fellow Democrat would take the hint and refrain from appointing anyone, he's been spending too much time in the genteel legislative culture of Washington. Blagojevich, still legally the governor, gave Reid and Company a lesson in Chicago-style chutzpah. He named Burris.
As political gamesmanship, the move was ingenious. In Burris, 71, Blago found an affable, largely inoffensive veteran Chicago officeholder who was hard to refuse, especially after Rep. Bobby Rush, a former Chicago Black Panther leader threw in the race card: Don't "lynch" Burris for what the governor who appointed him did, Rush warned.
Reports that Obama's election signaled a "post-racial" society proved to be greatly exaggerated, especially for Democrats who don't want to drive wedges in their political base. A day after Burris' news conference in the rain outside the Capitol, another photo op was constructed: Burris cheerfully sitting down with Reid and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, Illinois' other senator.
Why did Senate Dems cave so quickly? Tribune reporters revealed that pressure came from Obama and fellow senators to resolve this embarrassing mess quickly and move on to more urgent matters like the war, the recession, the bailout, etc., etc.
Obama's own public comments had cooled from a blanket denunciation a week earlier of anyone whom Blagojevich appointed to effusive compliments of Burris's character and record.
By the end of the week, the governor who appointed Burris was impeached by a near-unanimous vote in the Illinois House, partly for allegations that the governor tried to sell the seat Burris seeks to occupy.
While Blago's fate was passed to the Senate, Burris' standing on the Senate side actually improved. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's resistance to Burris had worn down to one thin little strand: Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White's refusal to certify Blagojevich's appointment of Burris.
Although Burris remained an appointed senator without a seat, political winds had shifted his way with hurricane force. Was it a political miracle? Burris seemed to think so.
"...(T)he Lord put his hands on the governor," Burris orated to a supportive crowd in a South Side Chicago church the previous Sunday, "and said, 'This is the person that has to go to Washington....' "
Blagojevich has an "in" with the Almighty? If so, the governor must be mightily steamed that the Lord didn't clue him in a little sooner about the court-ordered wiretaps on his phones.
(E-mail Clarence Page at email@example.com, or write to him c/o Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207.)