White Feels Heat in Burris Flap

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White says it's not his fault that Roland Burris was denied a senate seat yesterday.

For a man that's carved out a career as a steady team player with little taste for controversy or political fireworks, the 73-year-old is now feeling the heat with the furor over Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat suddenly exploding all around him.

"I'm not angry, I'm not upset, I just want this to be part of history," White told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

He's better known for the Jesse White Tumblers than for controversy.

The tumbling team composed of inner city youngsters has appeared on the "Late Show" with David Letterman and "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno and will be featured in Obama's inaugural parade.

But White has been caught up in the storm over Gov. Rod Blagojevich's appointment of former Illinois Attorney General Burris to fill the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by Obama's election as president.

White and Burris have long known each other and get along. Burris was the first African-American elected Illinois attorney general and White the first elected secretary of state. In happier times, White might have been delighted to give his official certification to Blagojevich's appointment.

But Blagojevich faces federal charges that he plotted to sell or trade the Senate seat. While there's no allegation of corruption by Burris, the appointment unleashed a storm. Democratic leaders insisted they would never seat an appointee of the tainted governor.

White joined in, declaring he would not certify a Blagojevich appointee. But lately pressure to seat Burris has intensified and Senate Democrats seem to be softening toward the beleaguered appointee.

White feels he has been unfairly blamed for holding things up.  [Story: Reid, Durbin:  It's All White's Fault]

"The bottom line is, they can go around me, and they choose to use me as the scapegoat, so to speak," White said, adding that he told that to Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, in a phone call Tuesday.

"That's exactly what I told him and he understood," White said.

In a show of solidarity, Attorney General Lisa Madigan on Wednesday issued a press release saying White's done everything he's legally required to do regarding Burris' appointment to replace President-elect Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate.

The motion says that no law requires a secretary f state's signature on appointments. They say the signature is only "recommended" by a U.S. Senate rule. 

Longtime acquaintances say there should be no surprise that White is uncomfortable.  He is a steady organization man who worked his way up in Chicago's Democratic Machine, starting as a precinct captain in the North Side's 42nd Ward decades ago.

"He's just been a solid citizen, and I think he's very uncomfortable, being in the spotlight," said Roosevelt University political scientist Paul Green.

White spent 16 years in the Illinois House before graduating through the hierarchy to become Cook County recorder of deeds for six years. In 1998, he was elected secretary of state -- a post with 3,600 jobs and millions of dollars in contracts.

His tenure has been largely free of controversy and that's how he likes it.

"He doesn't have a history of histrionics or calling press conferences at the drop of a hat," said political scientist Kent Redfield of the University of Illinois-Springfield. "He has been a dependable Chicago Democrat -- forever."

Previous occupants of the office used its powers as a springboard -- Democrat Alan Dixon to the Senate and Republicans Jim Edgar and George Ryan to governor.

But that's not Jesse White. He says he's gone as high as he wants to.

Born in downstate Alton, White graduated from Alabama State College, served a hitch in the 101st Airborne Division, played minor league baseball in the Chicago Cubs organization and was a teacher before entering politics.

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