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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 228

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This is the future grave of Roland Burris.

Born in Centralia, Illinois in 1937, Burris attended Southern Illinois University and then got a law degree from Howard. Burris was a successful man, as his ridiculously braggart grave suggests. In the 1960s, he became the National Bank Examiner for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency for the Treasury Department. That meant he was traveling around the Midwest as a black man examining banks, which of course upset a lot of racists. Burris went into the private sector in 1964 and stayed there until 1977, when Jesse Jackson named him COO of Operation Push. He seems to have broken with Jackson soon after. He only lasted 9 months with Operation Push and then when Burris was named Vice-Chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1985, Jackson protested, refusing to recognize Burris and saying the DNC was pandering to white people.

Of course, this means Burris was a player in Democratic politics. He was elected State Comptroller in 1982 and again in 1986, making him the first African-American elected to statewide office in Illinois. He wanted to be Senator but Paul Simon defeated him in the Democratic primary in 1984. He did became the state Attorney General in 1990. His own Assistant Attorney General resigned when he refused to fight the obviously wrongful conviction and death sentence of Ronaldo Cruz for murdering a little girl, a case with wild prosectuorial misconduct. Cruz was eventually pardoned but with no help from the ambitious Burris. He ran for a bunch of races after this–governor a couple of times, mayor of Chicago–but lost all the primaries.

But no one cares about any of this. The only reason people care about Roland Burris is that he is who Rod Blagojevich named to replace Barack Obama in the Senate, a position Blago had tried to sell off. Blagojevich insists that the reason he named Burris is that Burris had the biggest ego in Illinois politics and so would fight the hardest for it. Burris knew Blago wanted to paid and he was willing to do that, although he wanted to make sure he didn’t get caught. When Burris arrived to start his Senate term, Harry Reid refused to seat him and he was not allowed entry into the chamber. But, in part because Dianne Feinstein was a big supporter of him and in part due to a bunch of legal wrangling, Burris was seated a week later. When Burris did anything illegal has never been established, but at the very least, he was highly unethical in this whole process. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington immediately named Burris one of the 15 most corrupt members of Congress. The Senate Ethics Committee decided not to pursue sanction against him, but did admonish his actions. Of course Burris was a dead senator walking. Unable to raise money, he did not run for election in 2010 and was replaced by Mark Kirk.

Roland Burris isn’t dead, but he will be someday. I don’t think his ego can be killed off; at the very least, it’s well memorialized in this prime real estate in Oak Woods Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois.

If you would like this series to cover more ethically questionable politicians, dead or alive, you can donate to cover the necessary expenses here. It’s always bizarre when people erect gigantic monuments to themselves while still living, but it makes for entertaining graves, such as the one on Nicholas Cage. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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