Burris' support from black community wavering

Friday, February 20, 2009
** FILE ** In this Nov. 28, 1993 file photo, former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris is seen in Chicago. Burris, 71, not shy about touting his accomplishments, edged closer Thursday, Jan. 8, 2009, to gaining President-elect Barack Obama's vacant seat, some regard as a tainted prize, an appointment to the Senate from embattled Gov. Rod Blagojevich. So far Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White has refused to certify the appointment in the wake of the governor's arrest on federal corruption charges for allegedly trying to sell the seat he appointed Burris to fill. (AP Photo/Fred Jewell, File)

CHICAGO -- A group of black ministers who previously supported U.S. Sen. Roland Burris now plan to ask for his resignation, one of the ministers said Thursday.

Many of the city's influential black pastors supported Burris because of his scandal-free reputation -- even though he was appointed by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich after the governor was arrested.

But, prompted by revelations Burris attempted to raise money for Blagojevich while seeking the Senate job vacated by President Obama, some of those pastors want Burris to resign, according to the minister, who spoke on condition of anonymity because a meeting with Burris had not yet been scheduled.

Blagojevich is accused of trying to sell the Senate appointment.

Sentiment in the black community is not unanimous, but the clergy's silence as the maelstrom of criticism swells around Burris "speaks volumes," said another minister, Ira Acree, of the Greater St. John Bible Church.

"I'm a little disturbed, but because of his track record, don't want to rush to judgment," Acree said Thursday. "But neither will I attempt to defend his actions."

Clergy Speaks Interdenominational, an umbrella group that includes hundreds of Chicago's black churches, will meet Friday to discuss its support for Burris, spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin said. But for now, they still support him and are unaware of discussions about asking him to resign, she said.

Burris spokesman Jim O'Connor would not say whether the senator would meet with ministers, and referred to a statement from Burris asking that leaders "stop the rush to judgment."

Burris is accused of lying to an Illinois House committee in January when he testified that he hadn't had contact with key Blagojevich staffers or offered anything in return for the seat.

Last weekend, Burris released an affidavit saying he had spoken to several Blagojevich advisers, including Robert Blagojevich, the former governor's brother and finance chairman, who Burris said called three times last fall asking for fundraising help. This week, Burris admitted trying, unsuccessfully, to raise money for Blagojevich.

So far, Burris has resisted a growing chorus of calls for his resignation, including from within his own party.

Burris' latest revelations are "making the black community just as suspicious of him as anyone else," said the Rev. Leonard Barr of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church.

But Burris deserves a chance to defend himself and should not step down, he said.

"I think he can do the job," Barr said. "He would be a good senator and a conscientious senator."

Burris' support in the black community is wavering, with people torn between feelings of anger and betrayal and a desire to keep the only black senator in the country, said Laura S. Washington, a politics professor at DePaul University and columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times.

"They're disappointed, embarrassed and worried that the seat will be in jeopardy," Washington said.

Edward Bogan, a 58-year-old printer from Chicago, said he doesn't buy Burris' explanation for not telling the House impeachment committee about all his contacts with the Blagojevich administration.

"If your memory is that bad, why do we need you in there?" said Bogan, who is black. "If you're going to forget this, when there's an important bill that's coming to be passed, are you going to forget it or are you going to remember it? ... If you're only going to remember the part that benefits you, what good are you?"

Anyone Blagojevich appointed would have faced the scrutiny Burris is under, Bogan said.

"He not only put himself in a bad light but he put everyone else in a bad light," Bogan said of Burris. "It's not just black people that had faith in the man. White people had faith in the man."

But Chicago resident and real estate counselor Danyelle Hall, 37, says plenty of African-Americans support Burris.

"I think that he would've been more forthcoming if the appropriate questions were asked," by the committee, said Hall. "That didn't happen and that's not his fault."

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