When I first heard the news [on December 30, 2008] that our recently arrested Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich, had appointed Roland Burris as Illinois’ next U.S. senator, my first thought was, “I thought Burris was dead.”
No, the word “dead” wasn’t intended to symbolize a lack of meaningful political activity on Burris’ part - I actually thought he was deceased.
(By the way, in the event you weren’t aware of now ex-Governor Blagojevich’s escapades, Rod was initially charged in a criminal complaint with mail and wire fraud conspiracy and acts of public corruption. One of his most audacious acts was his alleged attempt to sell [the appointment to] the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by then-President-elect Barack Obama.)
Anyway, I formed my erroneous belief regarding Burris’ demise while I was doing some research at Chicago’s Oak Woods Cemetery back in the summer of 2007.
It was there I stumbled-upon, or should I say, could not avoid missing, the “monumental” grave marker erected in memory of Roland W. Burris, Esq.
There, at a fork in one of the cemetery’s main roads and just a short distance away from the comparatively modest gravestone of Olympic Champion Jesse Owens, stood the monument to Roland W. Burris, Esq.
My first reaction was surprise. I couldn’t recall hearing about Burris’ death and I’m usually pretty good about remembering the deaths of Chicago politicians. But after thinking about it, I figured I must have simply missed the news of his death somehow.
Since I was visiting the cemetery to take photographs for a short article I was researching and writing (see “Where the Famous Congregate in Chicago,” earlier in this blog), I decided to take a few photographs of Burris’ impressive grave site.
Burris was one of a few Chicago politicians who actually had some personal significance to me. He had been the Attorney General (AG) of the State of Illinois from 1991 to 1995, and I had briefly worked as an investigator with that office under his predecessor (whose name I don’t feel is worth mentioning.)
It’s fascinating how the human brain works; sometimes when I hear a certain name, it quickly generates a specific recollection. When it comes to the name “Roland Burris,” my brain immediately flashes on a memory of a mid-1990's telephone conversation with a buddy of mine.
At the time, my buddy was an investigator with the Illinois AG’s Office during the Burris administration. I had since returned to a Federal criminal investigator job and considered myself lucky to be gone from what I viewed as a blatantly political, incompetently administered, and frequently misused, Investigations Division at the AG’s Office.
Although I can’t recall the substance of what we discussed during our telephone conversation that day, I can still recall an unrelated, passing remark he made. In essence, my buddy said he and some other AG’s investigators "have to move some computer equipment from the [AG’s] office over to Burris’ campaign office today." While everything else about that conversation has since slipped my mind, that comment has stuck with me.
Prior to landing a job at the AG’s Office, I had been a civilian criminal investigator with the Army Criminal Investigation Command (“Army CID”) in Hawaii. As it turned-out, the first job I was able to find when I returned to Chicago was as an investigator with the AG’s Office.
I suppose the reason my buddy’s comment stuck with me, was because of what I thought right after he said it. I remember thinking to myself that if I were still with Army CID and a member of the military converted government property to his own personal use, he’d be brought-up on charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
As you might infer, I'm cursed with this unconventional belief that it's at least unethical - and should be criminal, for a politician to utilize the personnel and financial resources of his elected office to further his political career. Granted, however, that up until somewhat recently, it was common for politicians to do so and they seldom experienced any serious repercussions.
However, with Patrick J. Fitzgerald as the current United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, such conduct is now being treated much more harshly.
Although at the time I took the photographs of the monument, I noticed
there was no date of death, I merely thought that the stone masons hadn’t
gotten around to the job yet.
It never occurred to me that this monument may not have actually been intended to be a grave marker - at least not yet.
Perhaps it was built so a person could reflect upon his own perceived personal prowess, similar to the purpose of the monuments built by past Roman emperors during the course of their reign.
Or, perhaps it's somewhat like a personal art museum where a sculptor can sit for hours admiring his professed accomplishments.
Or, perhaps it’s like a trophy. A monument, of course, is certainly better that a trophy. It’s much bigger and more impressive. And, a typical trophy is kept inside a home where few people get to see it, whereas a monument is located outside where the public can readily see and be impressed by it.
Or, maybe it’s actually a résumé chiseled in stone, meant not only to impress, but also to serve as a marketing tool for future job opportunities.
I certainly have to admit, that if the monument was intended to be a résumé, it may have paid-off.
Roland W. Burris, Esq. is the now the junior United States Senator from the State of Illinois.
(Although, I suspect there is a lot more behind the story of Burris’ Senatorial appointment than the professed trail blazing accomplishments chiseled on his monument.)
Copyright 2009 by R. M. Burton