The seat up for grabs has produced three of the nation's four black
senators in modern history. It paved the way for Barack Obama to be
America's first black president. The Senate's only black member --
Roland Burris -- currently holds it.
Without an incumbent or Democratic heir apparent, the race is wide
open. So far, most of the declared candidates are white. That leaves
open the possibility that the chamber could have no black members
come 2011, even though efforts are under way to find a black
candidate in Illinois.
"When you make progress, you don't want to go backward. You don't
want to lose opportunities that you have created," said U.S. Rep.
Danny Davis, a black congressman from Chicago.
Among the blacks now running for Senate are Republican Ryan Frazier,
a city council member in Aurora, Colo., and U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek
of Miami, a Democrat. The race in Illinois is still unfolding, but
so far, no major black candidate has emerged.
Burris announced earlier this month he won't seek a full term,
because of fundraising problems stemming from his links to disgraced
former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The ousted governor was
charged with trying to sell the seat for personal and political gain
and despite his arrest, went ahead and appointed Burris to the post
Senate leaders initially refused to accept Burris' appointment, but
they changed course amid growing complaints about denying access to
the Senate's only black member. When Burris decided not to vie for
the seat, it raised the question whether there would be a
high-profile black candidate in the contest.
At least one Chicago group is working to find such a candidate.
Clergy Speaks Interdenominational, a coalition of about 200
churches, plans to identify potential candidates, said its
president, the Rev. Albert D. Tyson III. They are still figuring out
how that process will work.
"I think that Illinois needs good representation, and my hope and my
prayer would be that we would find a candidate of color who is
agreed upon by all parties. But what I want ultimately is for the
state of Illinois to be properly represented," Tyson said.
Cheryle Jackson, Chicago Urban League president, is the only black
Democrat to announce an interest in running. But she has been
largely silent about her plans in recent weeks. The political rookie
would have to deal with her own ties to Blagojevich because she
worked as his spokeswoman during his first term.
First-term Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias is seeking the
Democratic nomination, and Chicago businessman Christopher Kennedy,
whose father was the late Robert F. Kennedy, could join the field.
A variety of reasons are keeping some of Illinois' best-known black
politicians out of the race.
U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., for instance, expressed interest after
Obama's election and later had discussions with Blagojevich about
being appointed to the seat. Jackson has said he did nothing wrong,
but his association with Blagojevich damaged his public image, and a
congressional ethics board was looking into the matter.
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Davis, the congressman, says he's running for president of the Cook
County Board, the agency that runs the state's most populated
county, including Chicago.
At least two lesser-known black candidates are interested in
running: the Rev. Anthony Williams possibly as an independent and
entrepreneur Eric Wallace as a Republican.
But Republican Party officials have rallied around U.S. Rep. Mark
Kirk, a white, five-term congressman from Chicago's north suburbs.
Kirk said Tuesday that the question for voters isn't a candidate's
race but who can best represent all Illinois residents. "This seat
is not owned by any one particular group," he said.
America has had only six black senators, two during Reconstruction
following the Civil War and four since the 1960s.
The first black person to hold the Illinois seat was Carol Moseley
Braun, who won it in 1992 and lost it six years later to Republican
Peter Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald didn't seek re-election, and Obama
captured the seat in 2004, trouncing another black candidate,
conservative Republican Alan Keyes. Then came Burris.
Those three senators, particularly Obama, have given the seat
special significance for some black voters and leaders. It
represents both important progress toward political equality and the
long road that still lies ahead -- after all, it's just one seat out
"If you ask anybody on the street, 'Should this be a black seat?'
they'll tell you yes without even having to stop and think about
it," said Timuel Black, a retired college professor and Chicago
However, black leaders are careful not to imply that a black
candidate is more deserving of the seat.
"This is no question that diversity in the U.S. Senate is lacking,"
said U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from California who heads the
Congressional Black Caucus, in an e-mail statement. "It is up to the
people of Illinois to decide who represents them."
[Associated Press; By DEANNA
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