Steve Chapman

Wall Street titan Bernard Madoff proved you can take an outstanding reputation and ruin it overnight. Now Roland Burris has demonstrated that even a mediocre reputation can be instantly destroyed.

Burris is the prototypical time-serving career politician who owes his success to being simultaneously ambitious and bland. He has never been one to challenge the status quo, but no one underestimates his self-esteem. The two Burris children, after all, are named Roland and Rolanda.

The result of his immodesty has been a persistent hunger for offices that most people thought beyond his abilities. He has lost races for mayor of Chicago, U.S. senator, and governor of Illinois (three times).

Burris chief claim to fame until this week was his 12-year term as state comptroller, a job whose significance can be measured by the fact that few Illinoisans could identify the current occupant (Dan Hynes). Even among accountants, Burris left few strong impressions, but he also never gave any prosecutor grounds to indict him, which is not something Illinois voters take for granted.

When the news broke that Gov. Rod Blagojevich was trying to auction off Barack Obamas Senate seat, Burris called his behavior "appalling." After the governor appointed him to fill the vacancy, though, the onetime comptroller-for-life lost interest in the scandal. "I have no comment on what the governors circumstance is," he demurred.

But logic has never been his strong suit. A longtime advocate of a national handgun ban, Burris organized Chicagos first Gun Turn-in Day in 1993. But when he ran for governor the following year, he admitted that he owned a handgun ("for protection,") and did not hand it over to police as he urged others to do.

"He had simply forgotten about it," his spokesman said at the time -- a claim that, if believable, suggested Burris was not exactly the model for conscientious gun ownership. "Honey, didnt I used to have a pistol around here? Any idea where it might be?"

But now he finds himself chosen for a body where his ego would be among equals. Burris attested Tuesday that he is "the most qualified person in the state of Illinois." Besides that disinterested testament, he was hailed as "a good and honest man" by a benefactor who faces not only indictment but impeachment.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

©Creators Syndicate