Chicago politics. Those two words can start eyes rolling in the Middle West of the United States and start people from northern Illinois cursing. Former Illinois Senator, now President Barack Obama, knew how to make the right friends, navigate the ins and outs of the system, and ended up on top of the pile. Hardly anybody finds the path so smooth at such a young age, but who knows what obstacles he had to overcome or what political cache he had to offer. Not me and not you unless you are in with that tiny little group of people that comprises the in-crowd of Illinois politics.
Illinois politics don’t work in a reasonable way. To decide who is guilty and who is not a person has to rely on their gut. Illinois state politics are quite nasty with personal vendettas and secret promises the foundation of so many elected officials’ ascent to power. The Governor’s mansion is home to much of the juiciest history. Three Illinois governors since the 1970’s have spent time in prison.
So far former Governor Rod Blagojevich has avoided prison but many are trying to put him there. On August 17, 2010 the jurors of his corruption trial pronounced him guilty on one count out of the 24 counts with which he was charged.
For many this was a shocking surprise; only charged with one count of making a false-statement. The original charge listed 24 counts including extortion, fraud, extortion conspiracy, bribery, bribery conspiracy, attempted bribery; with the false statements to the FBI charge carrying the possibility of a five year felony conviction. The most shocking allegation was of an attempt to sell President Barack Obama’s Illinois Senate seat. John W. Dean, former counsel to the President, commented, “The verdict was equivalent to hitting the former governor with a kitchen sponge.”
Blagojevich is no stranger to conflict, tussles and Chicago tug-of-wars for power. He started his term January, 2003. His relationship with his lieutenant governor, Pat Quinn was strained. They disagreed over how to raise school revenues. Both sides of the aisle in the state legislator have called him, “disengaged,” “dictatorial,” and Democratic Rep. Joe Lyons told reporters, “We have a madman.”
Unfortunately for his wife, Blagojevich doesn’t even get along with his father-in-law. During his governorship, he shut down a landfill for environmental problems. The landfill was owned by his wife’s distant cousin. His wife’s father was the cousin’s adviser. Seems Blagojevich should be applauded for closing the landfill but people didn’t like the words he used to defend his action, saying his words were undignified and sexist.
At one point, the governor even reportedly cautioned his associates, saying: “You got to be careful how you express that and assume everybody’s listening, the whole world is listening. You hear me?” (These days isn’t everyone in the USA reminding each other that someone is probably listening?)
Blagojevich’s first nationally public action which was considered a “misstep” was an interview he gave to Jason Jones of the comedy talk show The Daily Show. This gave plenty of fodder to gossips and opinion makers who enjoy ridiculing clips of Rod Blagojevich happy, chatting and dancing.
Then the investigations started. On December 30, 2005 USA Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald announced he was starting an investigation into the Illinois’ Toll Service. On June 30, 2006 Mr. Fitzgerald started an investigation into hiring fraud. In September, 2006 a $1500.00 gift check to a Blagojevich friend and the hiring of the friend’s wife to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources came under close scrutiny.
The next allegation came in October, 2006. It was reported that a company that had won a no-bid contract had also donated over $100,000 to Blagojevich’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign. More allegations were made in October and November, 2006 and during 2007. During 2007 a deadlock over the budget led to intensified disputes, State Senator Mike Jacobs accused Blagojevich of screaming obscenities at him during a discussion about the governor’s health insurance proposals. Tensions in the State House escalated into a lawsuit. House Speaker Michael Madigan accused Blagojevich of wanting to “replace the rule of law with rule by a single man.”
In December, 2008 Blagojevich was taken into federal custody. He challenged Attn. Pat Fitzgerald, to release the tapes which led to his arrest saying the tapes would only prove he is guilty of “political horse trading — discussing possibilities with lawyers and advisers, and an emissary sent to me by the president himself.”
On January 9, 2009 Governor Blagojevich was impeached by the Illinois State House. “Impeachment required just 60 votes. The final tally was 114-1.” In September of 2009 a reporter asked,” is a comeback possible?” “I believe in those comebacks,” Blagojevich said. He explained that he “is placing his faith in “middle America”, the Main Street who knows what it’s like to be screwed by the liberal media.” Then another strange twist in July, 2010 when audio tapes seem to reveal Governor Blagojevich was governing out of a bathroom stall. “Did the potty mouth hide in the potty room?” asks Phil Rogers’ blog.
On August 17, 2009 after the verdict was announced, Blagojevich, wearing a Cubs baseball cap, made a statement. His eyes looked tired and sad. He had his lips tucked into his mouth. To me he looked like he was going to cry. But a person commenting on a Care2 blog post doesn’t’ agree with me at all. Walter G. wrote, “Look at that smirk. And well he might feel victorious, the government, renowned for the worst lawyers in their industry, has stuck out again.”
Sometime before the verdict was announced Blagojevich’s defense attorney, Sam Adam, Jr. was interviewed on TV for about 30 seconds. He looked up from his work and said, “Rod is an honest man. He just talks too much.”
A strange thing happened.
My gut told me to believe him.
Rod Blagojevich scandals Relationships with fellow lawmakers
The Blagojevich Verdict: A Case Too Complex and Confusing
Blago: “Honest” and “Broke”
Governor scandal hits Obama Team
Blagojevich Trial, is He getting a Fair Hearing? by Thomas David Magee
Rod Blagojevich: The Politician People Love to Hate by Robert Donaldson
Blagojevich on The Daily Show (8/23): Stewart Squares Off Regarding Blago’s Silence by Connie Wilson