"I am the greatest"

Roland Burris, Blago's choice for U.S. senator, has never been shy about his erstwhile achievements.

Kevin Berger
January 1, 2009 1:15AM (UTC)

Ace Chicago news reporters are mining their archives to bring the rest of the country up-to-date on Roland Burris, the surprise choice of a defiant Rod Blagojevich to adopt the U.S. Senate seat of soon-to-be-prez Barack Obama. With barely restrained glee, they are replaying Burris' unabashed penchant for brimming self-regard.

"The 71-year-old Burris -- who often refers to himself in the third person -- has never been shy about broadcasting his ambitions and loudly celebrating his achievements," writes Andrew Herrmann of the Chicago Sun-Times. When Burris ran for governor in 2002, his third unsuccessful try at the job, he told the paper's Kate Grossman: "Roland Burris, who started way down here, in the segregation of a southern Illinois community, was able to set goals, plan and strategize and make it."


Appparently Roland Burris' confidence had long been in place. In a 1994 interview with the Sun-Times, Herrmann informs us, "Burris said his past success -- he had been elected comptroller and attorney general -- was 'divine providence' that began at age 15 when he decided to become a lawyer and officeholder."

Over at the Chicago Tribune, Ray Long informs readers that Burris, a stickler for preparation, "has built a mausoleum for himself in Oak Woods Cemetery on the South Side. Carved under the words 'TRAIL BLAZER' is a long list of accomplishments, to which he had hoped to add, 'First black governor in Illinois history.'"

Along their merry way, the reporters point out a more sober fact about Burris, who as attorney general in 1992 vigorously sought the death penalty -- a Burris deputy resigned in protest -- for a suspected murderer later cleared by DNA. They also note that local politicos didn't see Burris quite as he saw himself.

During Burris' 2002 run for governor, David Axelrod -- yes, that David Axelrod -- told Grossman of the Sun-Times, "I think one of his challenges is to project a vision." To which Burris responded: "I disagree 1,000 percent. I am visionary. How do you think I got to where I am?" Grossman concluded her article with a swell anecdote about Burris once performing as Muhammad Ali in a skit before journalists, lobbyists and politicians. "Wearing shorts and boxing gloves, he wasn't shy about repeating one of Ali's famous lines: 'I am the greatest.'"

Of course, that was many fights ago. As Mick Dumke of the Chicago Reader points out, Burris' recent forays into the political ring have hardly floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee. Acknowledging that Burris was once "considered a smart, pragmatic, progressive politician," Dumke states that "over the last, oh, decade and a half, he's shown a mastery of losing elections." (He includes a nifty timeline to underscore his point.) In fine wag fashion, Dumke leaves us with a parting thought: "If, as they've stated repeatedly, Senate leaders refuse to seat anybody stained with the 'impropriety' of Blago, Burris may end up pulling off yet another impressive feat -- losing a bid for an office after he was appointed to it."



Kevin Berger

Kevin Berger is the former features editor at Salon.

MORE FROM Kevin Berger

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

War Room


Read Now, Pay Later - no upfront
registration for 1-Hour Access

Click Here
7-Day Access and Monthly
Subscriptions also available
No tracking or personal data collection
beyond name and email address


Fearless journalism
in your inbox every day

Sign up for our free newsletter

• • •