Sen. Roland Burris gets cold reception at St. Pat's parade in Chicago

Sunday, March 15, 2009

CHICAGO -- Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and U.S. Sen. Roland Burris both made customary appearances Saturday at the annual Chicago St. Patrick's Day Parade, but they drew different reactions.

Parade-goers clapped and greeted Quinn warmly as he approached. But for Burris, they just pointed derisively and chuckled.

The annual parade is a must-do for many Illinois politicians. Quinn worked the crowd by waving, grinning and shaking hands. Burris, meanwhile, kept to a clump of Chicago aldermen led by Mayor Richard Daley.

Wrapped in a green sash and carrying a walking stick, the senator rarely acknowledged the crowd. As he passed by, conversations sprouted on the sidelines as spectators pointed and nudged each other, reminding people standing closest to them that Burris was controversially appointed by ousted former governor Rod Blagojevich.

"There's our Senator Burris," 53-year-old Chicagoan Maureen Theodore said sarcastically.

Theodore, a financial exchange controller, said she was surprised at Burris' appearance.

"I thought he was in hiding," she said.

It was one of Burris' first appearances outside of the black community since he's repeatedly changed his story about his contact with Blagojevich's friends and aides in advance of being appointed. He has rebuffed ongoing calls from several state and national officials to resign.

Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office Jan. 29 for mismanagement and a criminal complaint stemming from his Dec. 9 arrest on charges that he attempted to sell the Senate seat vacated by President Obama.

"He's the senator -- I guess he should be here," said Collette Gortowski, 23. But "a lot of people weren't that interested to see him."

Gortowski, a marketer at a Chicago legal firm, said Burris didn't look at the crowd or wave.

"I don't know how beloved that guy is," said her boyfriend, 25-year-old Cole Pezley.

Burris' spokesman Jim O'Connor said he didn't have a comment on the parade.

Quinn's appearance came one day after he said he would propose a graduated income tax increase. But parade-goers still reacted enthusiastically to Blagojevich's former lieutenant governor.

"People are really positive about him," said 38-year-old Anthony Offredi. "He's distanced himself [from Blagojevich] in a positive fashion."

The crowd reacted to Burris poorly because his appointment is "tainted," said Offredi, an engineer from Detroit who's lived in Chicago for a year.

"If he's going to fix his image, he's going to have to show up at things like this," he said. "But really the only way to fix his image is to resign."

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