Roddy, we hardly knew ye
Michael M. Bates
Our president-elect said in 2002: ". . . right now, my main focus is to make sure that we elect Rod Blagojevich as governor. . ." Obama's White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, has bragged that he, Obama, and two another party loyalists "were the top strategists of Blagojevich's victory." Like other major Democratic politicians, Obama had absolutely no doubts about the character of the man they made governor. That's their story and they're sticking with it.
What they had to have known back then was that their candidate, who ironically campaigned against Republican dishonesty, was himself a product of the Chicago Machine, hardly a prototype for good government. Roddy didn't wed just any foul-mouthed gal; tactically, he aimed for the stars. His wife is the daughter of a powerful alderman.
In endorsing Rod's opponent in 2002, the Chicago Tribune reported everything voters needed to know:
"Blagojevich is the creation of his father-in-law, Chicago Ald. Dick Mell (33rd), who over the years has dispatched his political army to get out the vote for him." The newspaper noted Rod had once been on the city payroll despite questions about whether he did any work, spent four years racking up an undistinguished record in the state assembly, and had then moved on to Congress where his legislative accomplishments were nil.
The winsome Patti Blagojevich, being a modern woman, made her own way in the world, benefiting from real estate deals with Tony Rezko. Tony, who is definitely not the Rezko Obama knew, will soon do a stretch in the federal pen.
Early in his administration, Rod did something really stupid. He angered his father-in-law. Lashing back, Mell claimed Blagojevich traded cash for appointments to state boards.
What a shock. Four months before Mell's charges, the governor's own inspector general completed a report focusing on his administration giving jobs to political cronies and disregarding laws for preference in hiring veterans. The IG found: "This effort reflects not merely an ignorance of the law, but complete and utter contempt for the law."
Moving into the 2006 re-election year, Blagojevich had been investigated by the state attorney general. He was also under federal investigation.
So what was Obama's reaction to all the credible indications of corruption? He warmly made yet another endorsement, saying "We've got a governor in Rod Blagojevich who has delivered consistently on behalf of the people of Illinois and for that reason I am proud to stand behind him."
Rod was delivering consistently alright. But for himself, not the schmucks who put him in office.
Senator Dick Durbin appeared with Blagojevich at the governor's 2006 Springfield re-election announcement and campaigned with him in Chicago. Asked about the law enforcement probes of Blagojevich, Durbin answered he was trained not just in the law, but in the presumption of innocence as well. Now that's faith.
Also earnestly backing Rod for a second term was his lieutenant governor, Pat Quinn. That paragon of political courage, who's portrayed himself for decades as a genuine reformer, said of Milorad:
"He's always been a person who's honest and one of integrity. I have confidence the governor does the right thing all the time."
Such superior judgment pays off in the Democratic party. If Quinn isn't the new and improved governor of Illinois by the time you read this, he will be shortly.
Also not noticing any corruption all these years is recently retired state senate president Emil Jones. Known as Obama's political godfather as well as Blagojevich's strongest legislative ally, the Chicago Democrat did quite well for a former city sewer inspector. He'll take home close to $120,000 a year in retirement pay.
Emil's spouse also works for the state and her salary jumped up by $70,000 under Gov. Rod. Not that there was any connection or anything.
Richard Daley is yet another Democrat charmed by Hot Rod. Recognized for maintaining a distance from his party's gubernatorial candidates, Daley made an exception in 2002 and took on the assignment of general chairman of the Blagojevich campaign. "I'll do anything Rod wants me to do," he told a news conference. "I am lending my name and my support to him because I believe in what he stands for." I'll bet he does.
House speaker Michael Madigan is one of the few Democrats who didn't develop a crush on Milorad. The relationship was strained years ago when Blagojevich opined that the Justice Department should investigate Madigan for his handling of public money. Pot, meet kettle.
When he ran in his party's 2002 primary, I wrote that "two cans of hair spray-a-day Rod Blagojevich is an obvious threat to the ozone level" and recommended Democrats vote for Roland Burris. It turns out that Milorad was much more than merely an environmental hazard.
But, by golly, the president-elect, his chief of staff, Illinois's senior senator, the lieutenant governor, the former state senate president, and Richie Daley just never noticed. It's the Chicago way, America. Get used to it.
This Mike Bates column appeared in the December 18, 2008 Reporter Newspapers.