The arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his top aide on charges, among other things, that he attempted to sell off his pick to replace President-elect Barack Obama’s former Senate seat, creates a drama for political junkies just in time for the Holidays.
It has high drama allegation of bribes. It has big political families. It has ties to Obama. It involves the most exclusive club in the world and possibly the most corrupt office in the land.
Just consider the political story that is Blagojevich. A rising Chicago pol, he occupied the Congressional seat of powerful Dan Rostenkowski after he was convicted of mail fraud. He then became the Illinois top dog following Gov. George Ryan, who is now in prison for accepting bribes. Blagojevich ran as a reformer framing his Democratic Party credentials against the out-going corrupt Republican Ryan. Downstate Illinois never trusted him and he got off to a bad start. That said, even with approval ratings in the teens, Blagojevich won re-election.
But this is political story that goes beyond just Blagojevich. Along with the position of Newark, New Jersey mayor the seat of Illinois Governor may be the most corrupt office in America. Not all governorships are created equal. Some governors have virtually no power (Vermont) and some have a lot (Massachusetts and Alaska). On the sliding scale, Illinois Governors do have a lot of power. They also have a wrap sheet. If Blagojevich is convicted he will become the fourth Illinois Governor in 40 years to go to jail. Other than Ryan, former governor Dan Walker took fraudulent loans to repair his yacht. Gov. Otto Kerner (as in Kerner Commission) was convicted of taking bribes while in office.
There are big families and big names involved in this affair. Those rumored to be jockeying for the appointment to the Senate included Attorney General Lisa Madigan, whose father, the Illinois House Speaker, was apparently pushing Blagojevich hard to appoint his daughter. There is also Jesse Jackson, Jr. who wanted the seat. In addition, there is longtime Obama confidant Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky as a possible pick. You might remember that in the Fall of 2002 Schakowsky organized this little anti-war rally where a certain state senator spoke out against the war…
And the U.S. Attorney who brought the charges against Blagojevich is none other than Patrick Fitzgerald, who is national fame because he was the special prosecutor looking into the leaking of Valarie Plame’s identity as a CIA undercover agent and called for famous witnesses like Karl Rove and Tim Russert.
In a 70 page indictment, Fitzgerald alleges that Blagojevich and his chief of staff were pursuing either being paid off by a “Candidate No. 5” up front for the Senate appointment or that Blagojevich’s wife would get a high paid job. Given the charges the most unfortunate headline of the week comes from Monday’s Chicago Sun-Times about outgoing Illinois Senate president Emil Jones.
They say money cannot buy you love, but it almost bought a Senate seat.