Blago’s New York Moment

But in the end, Ms. Blagojevich performed admirably on the series, and a Montana woman even started a Patti fan club—evidence that the media strategy was working. In moments of optimism, it was even possible to feel that redemption and forgiveness were just a few more tarantula meals away.

MR. BLAGOJEVICH’S reality-show debut came on March 14, with the first episode of The Celebrity Apprentice 3. He appeared in a New York City diner alongside fellow celebrity cast members (Cyndi Lauper! Darryl Strawberry! Sinbad!), wearing a “little sous-chef hat,” and serving up $100 hamburgers to the likes of Joan Rivers. The latter event did not go smoothly. In a blip of drama, Ms. Rivers blamed her cold meal on the governor’s lousy service. Video evidence suggested that Mr. Blagojevich’s dereliction of duty was a result of talking too much with other patrons about his own innocence. In the second episode, women on the street mistook Mr. Blagojevich for Donny Osmond, and Sharon Osbourne suggested his eyes were set too close together on his face.

In terms of the overall PR strategy, this counted as a major win. “I think now, it’s working,” said Mr. Selig. “As evidenced by walking down the street. You can come with us and see how people react. What is resonating is who he really is, not what was portrayed at that news conference.”

“I do love that he is always in character,” MSNBC anchor and Blago-aficionado Willie Geist recently told The Observer. “The people coming into the diner probably don’t know quite who he is. He introduces himself and says, ‘I’m Rod Blagojevich and I’m innocent of all charges.’”

“He’s not Eliot Spitzer, who did these horrible dark things to his wife, and was living a secret life,” Mr. Geist added. “He’s just kind of a character and a clown. So people go, ‘Ah, maybe he tried to get himself a little money and he dropped a couple F-bombs and he was kind of funny about it on the tapes.’”

Back at the deli, Mr. Blagojevich launched into a Rudyard Kipling poem. “If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken/ Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,” said Mr. Blagojevich. “Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken/ And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools …”

All things considered, his spirits were high. Vindication, he felt confident, was around the corner. “I would not do any of this if I was guilty. I don’t have that kind of chutzpah.”

An older woman who had been sitting nearby approached the table and asked for Mr. Breslin’s autograph, then turned to Mr. Blagojevich. “You have great hair,” she said.

It was time to head over to Fox News. After a couple hours at the deli, the final bill came to $37.25. Mr. Blagojevich left a robust $8 tip. He knew how hard it could be waiting tables. The group rumbled outside. Which way was Sixth Avenue? They headed west across 47th Street. Mr. Blagojevich passed two construction workers, who seemed to recognize him. Mr. Blagojevich walked over, shook their hands and thanked them for their support. A few seconds later, he made eye contact with a jeweler, who waved the governor into his store. Inside, Mr. Blagojevich made his way down a receiving line, shaking hands and smiling. “I’m going to make a comeback,” he said, “and when I do, I’m going to come back here and buy my wife a diamond.” “What show are you on?” asked one of the jewelers. “The Apprentice,” somebody else answered. “Tell Trump he oughta get hair like yours,” said one of the guys.

Back on the street, Mr. Blagojevich was in campaign mode. He made eye contact with a doughy fellow in a blue blazer. They shook hands. The man asked what the solution was to state budget deficits. Cutting administrative costs was a part of the answer, said Mr. Blagojevich, not raising taxes. A short elderly lady wearing pink-framed glasses interrupted them. She clasped the governor with both hands. He was in her prayers. Pulling out a camera phone, the man in the blazer snapped some pictures. Another jeweler approached the governor. What a coincidence. Mr. Blagojevich knew his brother. He introduced the jeweler to the man in the blazer. “Tell your brother he’s a mensch,” said Mr. Blagojevich. He looked around. “Where’s Jimmy?”

fgillette@observer.com