Burris's campaign noshes through the neighborhoods
By MANUEL GALVAN
While the other candidates for the November election were slinging mud, it was refreshing to see Roland Burris turn to a more venerable campaign tradition on his stump to become Illinois attorney general — eating. No, not the rubber chicken circuit. I mean breaking biscuits with ministers on Chicago's south side and biting bagels with the Jewish community in Rogers Park.
Burris outdid Gov. Jim Thompson, who often shared chili with country singer Willie Nelson, and Vice President Dan Quayle, the favorite snack of talk show comedians. (Newsweek, you may recall, ran a photograph of Quayle biting into a campaign donut in Dallas with gubernatorial loser Clayton Williams.) In fact, Burris may well have set a record for ethnic eating stops on a campaign trail.
On United Nations Day, two weeks before the November 6 election, Burris loaded campaign workers onto a red, double-decker bus from Britain and hit 11 ethnic restaurants before dusk. There was samosa (fried turnovers with spicy vegetable filling) at Anna Purna on Devon Avenue, long an East Indian commercial strip. There were fortune cookies at Chiam's in Chinatown. And, at Trattoria Roma in Little Italy, Burris even made a sausage pizza under the guidance of owner Franco Zalloni.
Berlean Burris accompanied her husband. But the former nursing department chairperson at Chicago State University had no cause to warn him about overeating. Burris watched his own eating habits. No friend of cholesterol, he stayed away from most of the campaign meals. Lunch was an apple on the bus.
Instead of calories, Burris was content to garner an impressive list of endorsements and share his upbeat campaign speech. "I am indeed very happy to be with you because of the cultural strength and diversity that your community brings to our city," he told each crowd. He also thanked them for their political support.
But, as newly elected Cook County Commissioner Maria Pappas noted over baklava in Greektown, Burris had spent years developing the communities' friendships. "You are the man of the hour because you're able to walk into any ethnic community and be welcomed."
Because it was during the week and during the day, crowd numbers were in the double digits. Burris, however, has a long history of making packed schedules pay off. In previous campaigns for state comptroller and an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate in 1984, Burris delivered airport speeches in more than half a dozen cities during one-day fly-arounds. He also led campaign charges into small towns and suburbs, jamming malls, schools and, of course, diners into half-day and quarter-day tours.
By his own admission, the 53-year-old native son of Centralia has eased up a bit. Instead of visiting eight churches on a Sunday morning, he attends a different service every week. But he still covers all the territory.
"I'm campaigning all over the city of Chicago, just as I have campaigned all over this state, from Rockford to Carbondale and from Danville to Quincy," the fourth-generation downstater proclaimed to the urban crowds. Aboard his bus, decorated with red, white and blue crepe paper, Burris added that he "wanted to focus on
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the delicacies of various communities" and show off Chicago's United Nations atmosphere.
Burris enhanced that reputation, as well as his own, by greeting each ethnic group with some words in its own language. Each message drew surprise and applause. But the biggest response came in the basement cafeteria of the Polish National Alliance Building over poppy seed cake.
As former president of the National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers and Treasurers, Burris was one of several U.S. fiscal officers who visited Warsaw in March 1990 to offer financial expertise. He got to use his Polish again in April when he hosted a delegation of Polish finance officers for some smelt fishing.
Burris, the highest ranking black state official, assured the Polish audience, "I want to represent all the people in all our state." His message to African Americans was no different. That sense of political harmony, of bridging ethnic and racial groups, was in sharp contrast to the one-note strains of the Harold Washington Party and its all-black ticket. In short, Burris bridged the city's Democratic factions.
In Pilsen over Mexican pastries, he was flanked by Alds. Jesus Garcia (22nd Ward), Luis Gutierrez (26th Ward) and Juan Soliz (25th Ward). At Edna's soul kitchen over greens, he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioner Joe Gardner, a former political strategist for Mayor Washington.
And, at the Chicago Brauhaus, with Daley administration Alds. Richard Mell (33rd Ward) and Eugene Schulter (47th Ward), Burris was introduced by Democratic ward committeeman Ed Kelly (47th Ward), a historic foe of the Washington forces. After the Shannon Rovers Pipe Band evoked the memory of the first Richard Daley and paraded through the Oktoberfest crowd, Burris held up his own stein. With the lederhosen-clad Euro-quintet behind him and Brauhaus owner Harry Kempf as a vocal companion, Burris, who studied international law at the University of Hamburg, sang in German. It was a traditional drinking song toasting German goodwill. But that October 24, it carried a much broader meaning.
Manuel Galvan is an editorial board member of the Chicago Tribune. He is Illinois Issues' new "Chicago" columnist, alternating monthly with Paul M. Green.
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