Sen. Roland Burris, D-IL, walks off the floor of the Senate in August 2010. (Alex Brandon/AP)
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When Roland Burris is reached by phone at his Chicago law office earlier this week, he is proofreading copies of his memoir. He gives the working title--"What is your reaction to that? Does it grab you?"--but asks that it not be printed, since he hasn't copywritten it. His agent is still shopping the book around, and Burris is hoping for some kind of advance.
The thrust of the memoir is his journey from Centralia, Illinois, to his controversial appointment by Gov. Rod Blagojevich to the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama--the seat no one wanted after Blagojevich was caught by federal agents trying to sell it to the highest bidder.
Burris, an understated and often overlooked Illinois pol, had been lobbying for the seat hard after Obama was elected president and preparing to give it up, but when Burris accepted the governor's appointment, he became a national laughingstock, mocked for everything from the mausoleum he had built for himself for after his death to the names of his children (Roland II and Rolanda), even his penchant for referring to himself in the third person. The Senate initially refused to seat him, and federal investigators looked into whether he had tried to buy off Blagojevich.
And so the last part of Burris's memoir is devoted to clearing his name in the whole sordid affair and settling a few scores with those he blames most for his predicament--mainly, as he says, "your colleagues in the media."
The memoir describes his "mentality in terms of my having the audacity to take the appointment and then the media in their minds treated it as heresy and attacked me as if I had committed some kind of crime. You know: 'Burris lied to get seated, Burris changed his story, Burris tried to raise funds for the governor.' Those are the headlines in the Sun-Times and the Tribune."
Repeatedly in two 30-minute phone conversations, Burris quotes the names, dates, authors, and headlines of stories he found to be unfair from his time in Washington. And, he notes, even though he was exonerated in Blagojevich's scheme, one would be hard-pressed to find any stories about that.
"It has become the norm in this media mentality, and it is ruining people's lives. Under our judicial system, you are innocent until proven guilty. Yet you are guilty until proven innocent in the press, and then when you are innocent, there is no reporting. So where do you go to get your reputation back? Is there as much ink about how 'Burris Hasn't Done Anything Wrong' as there was when 'Burris Changed His Story,' 'Burris Tried to Raise Funds for the Governor'?
In the years since he left the Senate, Burris has mostly kept a low profile, running his law practice and occasionally appearing at political events in Chicago's black community. He recently started teaching a class called the Roland Burris School of Politics, in which he teaches aspiring pols how to win elections and how the American political system works. The class meets in the evenings for three days at a time, and costs 50 bucks a session. A Chicago Tribune columnist sent an undercover reporter to attend and wrote a mocking write-up, which Burris quoted freely, presumably from memory, on the phone.
Source: The Daily Beast | David Freedlander