Meet Roland Burris, Your Next Senator

Take a look at the background and career of Roland Burris

Gov. Rod Blagojevich has named former state Comptroller and Attorney General Roland W. Burris, 71, to Illinois' vacant U.S. Senate seat.

Burris was born Aug. 3, 1937, the son of a railroad worker in Centralia.  He was educated at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and also studied international law as an exchange student at the University of Hamburg, Germany.  He has a degree from Howard University Law School.

Entering Chicago's banking world, he rose from tax accountant to vice president in eight years.

His first brush with politics -- a 1968 run for the Illinois House -- was a failure. But five years later, his political service got him appointed as an aide to Gov. Dan Walker.

[Chicago Sun-Times: Images of Roland Burris]

He was the Director of the Illinois Department of General Services in 1973 and took over as national executive director and chief operating officer for Operation PUSH in 1977.

He lost a 1974 bid for comptroller but captured the office in 1978, becoming the first black person to hold a statewide office in Illinois. After three terms, Burris announced a run for governor, which was ultimately unsuccessful. Instead he ended up running, successfully, for attorney general in 1990.

Then, in 1994, he again sought the governor's office. Despite an early lead, Burris had little money and ended up losing the Democratic nomination to Dawn Clark Netsch.

In his gubernatorial races, Burris sold himself as an experienced businessman ready to take over the Illinois "corporation."

He pledged to devote 51 percent of all new revenue to school funding; to cut back on state spending; to create a "rainy day" fund to provide for state fiscal crises; to continue building an airport at Peotone; and to promote high-speed rail. He supported limiting campaign contributions but only if they're accompanied by spending limits.

He is a supporter of abortion rights and a ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation. He wants to increase early childhood education.

In 1995, Burris popped up again, this time running as an independent for mayor of Chicago. He was trounced.

Burris became manager of a law firm, and his political career seemed to be over. In 1998 and 2002, he ran for governor again, scoffing at the suggestion that he simply wanted to win another office, any office.

"I don't run just for the sake of running," Burris said. "I run to win and then to see how I can better improve myself."

Burris portrays himself as a man who crosses boundaries. A downstater who made his mark in Chicago. A banker who turned to politics. A black man successful in a white-dominated world.

In a sense, however, he stands outside all those categories.

He is clearly driven and energetic, constantly in motion. Studying a file, telling his driver where to turn, talking to reporters -- maybe all at once.

Critics, however, have suggested that Burris didn't do enough as attorney general. When he ran for the office, for example, Burris promised to open divisions devoted to women and children. He did, but late in his tenure and with muddled missions.

But Burris did devote more attention to civil rights issues, charity fraud and crime victims' rights. And it was during his tenure that lawmakers passed legislation allowing for statewide grand juries that can pursue drug offenses anywhere in Illinois.

"I am very good at what I do -- forgive my modesty," he said. "Government, public service is my business."

He has a wife, Berlean, a daughter, Rolanda, and a son, Roland II.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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