msnbc.com news services
updated 2/20/2009 8:02:07 PM ET 2009-02-21T01:02:07

U.S. Sen. Roland Burris kept out of sight Friday as longtime friend Gov. Pat Quinn joined the roster of fellow Democrats calling for his resignation following new disclosures about his controversial appointment.

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Quinn said that his fellow Democrat is an honorable man. But he says controversy surrounding Burris' appointment has cast a shadow over his service in the Senate.

"It was a gigantic mistake for him (Burris) to take the appointment in the first place," Quinn told a news conference.

The governor says a new senator should be chosen by special election.

Meanwhile, a top aide to Burris stepped down Friday. Darrel Thompson, the Senate chief of staff, had been "loaned" to Burris by Majority Leader Harry Reid to organize his office shortly after Burris was seated. Thompson will return to Reid's office.

He is the second high-level staffer to go. Burris hired a new communications director earlier this week after his spokesman quit.

The White House also weighed in Friday, saying Burris should come up with an explanation about the conflicting statements.

Press secretary Robert Gibbs said Burris should take time this weekend to "certainly think of what lays in his future."

Burris eluded reporters Friday and only repeated pleas through his spokesman to "stop the rush to judgment." The junior senator scheduled private visits to a veterans medical center and naval training center north of Chicago but did not speak publicly.

Burris was appointed by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was later impeached and removed from office.

Burris initially said there was no discussion of him doing Blagojevich any favors in exchange for the appointment. But Burris later acknowledged he did discuss the vacant seat with the governor's friends and allies. He says he was asked to raise money for Blagojevich but couldn't find anyone willing to contribute.

Separately, there were indications that several influential black pastors who supported Burris may be changing their minds.

Clergy Speaks Interdenominational, an umbrella group that includes hundreds of Chicago's black churches, will meet Friday to discuss its support for Burris, spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin said. For now, the group still supports him and its leaders are unaware of discussions about asking him to resign, she said.

Burris spokesman Jim O'Connor would not say whether the senator would meet with ministers and referred to a statement from Burris asking that leaders "stop the rush to judgment."

Sentiment mixed
Current sentiment in the black community is not unanimous, but the clergy's silence so far as the maelstrom of criticism swells around Burris "speaks volumes," said another minister, Ira Acree, of the Greater St. John Bible Church.

"I'm a little disturbed, but because of his track record, don't want to rush to judgment," Acree said Thursday. "But neither will I attempt to defend his actions." 

Illinois lawmakers have asked local prosecutors to look into perjury charges, and a preliminary U.S. Senate Ethics Committee inquiry is under way. Burris denies lying under oath and has resisted a growing chorus of calls for his resignation, including from within his own party.

Burris is, like Obama was, the only black U.S. senator.

Even before the U.S. Senate appointment became embroiled in controversy, Burris trumpeted clergy support, telling the AP on Nov. 5 that a half-dozen black ministers from Chicago had approached him to see if he was interested in the job.

After Blagojevich named him to the seat, Burris appeared at a New Covenant Church service, where supporters including U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush and about 60 ministers condemned Senate Democratic leaders for initially rejecting Burris.

Burris' latest revelations are "making the black community just as suspicious of him as anyone else," said the Rev. Leonard Barr of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church.

But Burris deserves a chance to defend himself and should not step down, he said. "I think he can do the job," Barr said. "He would be a good senator and a conscientious senator."

People who have supported Burris are torn between feelings of anger and betrayal and a desire to keep the only black senator in the country, said Laura S. Washington, a politics professor at DePaul University and columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times.

"They're disappointed, embarrassed and worried that the seat will be in jeopardy," Washington said.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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