The corruption-tainted governor of Illinois defied Democratic party leaders on Tuesday by appointing a prominent black American statesman to the US Senate seat vacated by US 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 said 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,” Blagojevich said.