After a decade in obscurity, former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris is suddenly a national celebrity in the vortex of controversy surrounding embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Burris, 71, the state's first black attorney general and also a former state treasurer, is now legally a U.S. senator, he says, after Blagojevich picked him to fill the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.
"I am the senator, I am the junior senator from the state of Illinois," Burris, a Democrat, told ABC News. "I think the other individuals will come around to realize that they cannot stand in violation of the United States Constitution."
Blagojevich, who was arrested on corruption charges earlier this month for allegedly trying to sell Obama's vacated Senate seat, announced at a press conference Tuesday that he had officially selected Burris to fill the seat.
Democratic leaders, who called for Blagojevich to step down earlier this month, said they would refuse to seat Blagojevich's choice, despite the governor's argument that the people of Illinois deserve representation.
"We do not need to go into the 111th Congress with only one senator [from Illinois]," Burris said. "Given the crisis in our country, given the problems that we're having all across the board, we need all hands on deck."
Burris says he's willing to take on top Democrats, including Obama, to take possession of the Senate seat that he claims is now rightfully his. He asked the Illinois Supreme Court to force Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White to certify his appointment Wednesday.
"It's legal. What they are saying is not legal? You want me to walk away from a legal appointment?" Burris asked. "They have no legal grounds to deny me the opportunity to take my seat."
But when an aide to Blagojevich tried to present the letter appointing Burris to state officials, he was turned away.
"Your name could be motherhood and apple pie," said Secretary of State White, who refused to certify Burris' selection. But if "the governor comes forward with your name ... you're going to have tough sledding."
Burris tried to disassociate the issue of his appointment's legitimacy from the scandal surrounding Blagojevich.
"I am not involved in the governor's problems. I am in no way being impacted or affected by what he has ... allegedly done," Burris said. "I had no role in it. I had no part in it."
Nevertheless, Burris' appointment faces a tough road ahead, facing opposition from leading political figures from Chicago to Washington, including the president-elect.
Still, Blagojevich has put senators in a tough spot.
"The governor was trying to play the race card," said Rick Pearson, political writer for the Chicago Tribune. "What are the Senate Democrats going to do? Are they going to deny a Senate seat to Roland Burris, the first elected African American statewide official?"
In Obama's own racially mixed neighborhood, the appointment has taken on a racial edge. The majority of African Americans we spoke to think the Senate should seat Burris.
"I believe he is a qualified individual. He's held office before," said Richard Thomas. "We wanted an African American, so I think it was a good choice."
Floyd Johnson agreed.
"I believe he's a great choice," he said. "There is no legal impediment. The governor is just doing his job."
At Chicago's Valois Café, Adam and Jean Clement, a white couple, questioned the appointment.