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Obama rejects Blagojevich’s Senate pick

Latest update : 2009-01-09

President-elect Barack Obama said that he supports the Democratic Party's decision not to seat any candidate named by scandal-tainted Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, accused of trying to sell Obama's vacant senate seat.

AFP- The corruption-tainted governor of Illinois defied Democratic party leaders Tuesday by appointing a prominent African-American statesman to the US Senate seat vacated by president-elect Barack Obama.

Senate Democrats vowed not to seat former Illinois attorney general Roland Burris, saying he would "serve under a shadow and be plagued by questions of impropriety" in the wake of federal corruption charges stating that Governor Rod Blagojevich tried to sell the seat to the highest bidder.

Obama said that while Burris is "a good man and a fine public servant," the president-elect supports the decision not to seat anyone appointed by Blagojevich.

Obama called the governor's move "extremely disappointing," and said the "best resolution would be for the governor to resign his office and allow a lawful and appropriate process of succession to take place."

"While Governor Blagojevich is entitled to his day in court, the people of Illinois are entitled to a functioning government and major decisions free of taint and controversy," Obama said in a statement.

But Illinois congressman and civil rights leader Bobby Rush used racially tinged language in urging Senate Democrats to reconsider, saying they should "not hang and lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointer."

Rush said Burris is a "worthy" candidate without an "iota of taint" on his 40-year record of public service and noted that with Obama's departure, there are no African-Americans in the US Senate.

Rush, who joined Burris and Blagojevich at a Tuesday press conference, said he would "challenge" and "persuade" his colleagues in Congress not to block a qualified black candidate. "I don't think they want to go on record doing that," he said.

Blagojevich, who has vehemently denied any wrongdoing, said he was merely fulfilling his duty to the citizens of Illinois after state lawmakers failed to call a special election.

The governor described Burris as "an individual who has unquestioned integrity, extensive experience and is a wise and distinguished senior statesman of Illinois."

"Please don't allow the allegations against me to taint this good and honest man," Blogojevich said.

Obama, who is on holiday in Hawaii before he takes office on January 20, has not been accused of any wrongdoing in the scandal.

Burris, 71, became the first African-American elected to statewide office in Illinois in 1978 when he won the office of state comptroller, a post he held until he was elected attorney general in 1990.

Burris "has had a long and distinguished career serving the people of Illinois. He will be a great United States senator," Blagojevich said.

But Illinois Senator Dick Durbin said Burris's record and ability are irrelevant in the face of Blagojevich's December 9 arrest on fraud and bribery charges after FBI wiretaps allegedly revealed he had discussed ways to profit from the appointment.

"It is truly regrettable that despite requests from all 50 Democratic senators and public officials throughout Illinois, Governor Blagojevich would take the imprudent step of appointing someone to the United States Senate who would serve under a shadow and be plagued by questions of impropriety," Durbin said in a statement on behalf of the Senate leadership.

Anyone appointed by Blagojevich "will not be seated by the Democratic Caucus," Durbin said.

Blagojevich has refused to resign in the wake of the scandal, but state lawmakers are currently leading an inquiry into whether there are grounds to impeach him and remove him from office.

He is also accused of demanding hefty campaign contributions in exchange for state contracts and trying to get editors critical of his administration fired from the Chicago Tribune in what prosecutors called a "political corruption crime spree."

Burris, who is not thought to be among the six candidates discussed by Blagojevich in the FBI wiretaps, declined to comment on "the governor's circumstance" saying only that "in this legal process, you're innocent until you're proven guilty."

He also declined to say whether he would fight attempts to block his appointment.

"I am proud of my accomplishments as a public servant," Burris said as he accepted the appointment.

"I ask the people of Illinois to place the same faith and trust in me that they have in the past when they elected me" for earlier statewide positions.

The Tribune reported that Burris was the second of two post-arrest choices for Blagojevich. Danny Davis, a black congressman from Chicago, was offered the post by a Blagojevich representative one week ago but declined the offer, according to the paper.

Date created : 2008-12-31