Only days after Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn established a time frame for U.S. Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill., to give up his seat or watch lawmakers move against him with a special-election law, the state’s chief executive backed down Monday and said it was time to “move on.”

The change of heart by Quinn, a likely candidate for election to the governor’s office in 2010, came after he met with a group of African-American politicians amid a climate in which some members of the black clergy and Chicago aldermen have called on Quinn to cease calling for Burris to resign.

Even as Quinn took some pressure off Burris, the appointed junior senator faced a potential political fight on a new front when Democratic state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias announced a committee to raise money to campaign for Burris’ seat in the 2010 primary. Burris has not formally declared whether he would seek election.

Quinn denied that concerns about his relations with the African-American community and his political own future prompted him to drop pushing a special-election law that could effectively dislodge Burris, the only black U.S. senator, from his post.

But much as Burris’ ever-changing statements regarding how he got appointed by former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich created questions about the senator’s veracity and viability, Quinn’s comments also reflect ever-shifting positions the governor has taken on filling U.S. Senate vacancies going to back to Blagojevich’s arrest on Dec. 9. Quinn succeeded Blagojevich, who was removed from office in a Senate trial on impeachment charges that included his federal arrest for allegedly trying to sell the U.S. Senate vacancy of President Barack Obama.

Only Thursday, Quinn told radio station WGN-AM that he would give Burris “two weeks” to contemplate a resignation before encouraging lawmakers to approve a law giving the governor the power to call a special election. His comments came after Attorney General Lisa Madigan said the federal Constitution gave lawmakers the right to approve a special election because Burris’ appointment could be considered “temporary.”

“Now, after a short, reasonable period of time, if he doesn’t do that (resign), then I think we should pursue ahead with a (special-election) statute,” Quinn said last week. “I have urged the two legislative leaders today, in (Illinois capital) Springfield when I was there, to go ahead and do that. Let’s get it on the books.”

But on Monday, the governor backed down after his hour-long meeting, though he said he has been making his position “crystal clear” to voters all along.

“I think there should be a special election, but if the incumbent senator decides to stay in office, I don’t think anything will happen because of that,” Quinn said.
Quinn said that while he was not backing down on his desire that Burris quit, “I mean, if he doesn’t accept my advice, we have to move on.”

“My position is well known. I think there should be a special election. You cannot have a special election unless the incumbent resigns. The incumbent has said he will not resign,” the governor said.

Copyright 2009 McClatchy-Tribune