When is an annual salary of $177,412 a year not enough?
When you are Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, apparently not.
Media today was all over the story that the sitting governor of the state of Illinois had been arrested at daybreak on corruption charges at his home at 6:30 a.m. this morning.
Those of us who live in the state of Illinois shrugged and said, “What’s new?”
The last 4 governors of Illinois have been corrupt. Governor Ryan, a Republican, is doing 6 years in prison right now for such things as the drivers’ license bureau scandal where licenses were sold and money funneled to his campaign. (Some innocents died as a result of the licenses for sale philosophy under Ryan, who also suspended the death penalty in Illinois as he left office.) Some are lobbying for a pardon from outgoing President George W. Bush for Ryan, as he leaves office next month.
Before Ryan there was Walker, in 1987, who earned the state’s highest office by walking across the state campaigning; but he was also proven to be corrupt. Before Walker there was Otto Kerner Jr., in 1974 (also corrupt). And there was the Dan Rostenkowski scandal in 1996. So those who characterize Illinois politics and politicians as corrupt are stereotyping, yes, but look at how much they’ve had to work with!
When I awakened this morning and read my morning paper (the Tuesday, December 9, 2008, Daily Dispatch, Moline, Illinois), on page C3 a small article was buried that read, “Blagojevich Doesn’t Care If He Was Taped.” The article quoted Rod Blagojevich as saying, “I don’t care whether you tape me privately or publicly. I can tell you that whatever I say is always lawful.” The governor went on to say that if there were tapes out there, people would hear him trying to help the citizens of Illinois.
All right-y then, fellow Illinois residents. What, exactly, did the tapes that U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Patrick Fitzgerald…who has been working this case for some time and has been working from wire-taps to indict corrupt individuals like Tony Rezko since 2004 or earlier, —prove that Governor Blagojevich was saying and doing while at work?
Among other ways the governor was “helping the citizens of Illinois,” he was attempting to sell Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder. Some quotes from the 76-page indictment against the 51-year-old Governor quote him as saying, “I’ve got this thing, and it’s f****** golden. I’m not just going to give it away for f****** nothing.” The governor declared, “I want to make money” on more than one occasion, and discussed various boards for his wife, Patti, which might earn her $150,000 a year. In regard to the speculation that he might appoint himself to the Senate seat being vacated by President Elect Obama, he said, “If they’re not going to offer me anything of value, I might as well take it. I’m going to keep this Senate option for me a real pose, you know, and therefore, I can drive a hard bargain.”
Wow! That was really “trying to help the citizens of Illinois.” I know I feel “helped” already. It seems more like the governor was trying to help one particular citizen of Illinois: Rod Blagojevich.
Investigator Fitzgerald put it this way, “We were in the middle of a corruption crime spree and we wanted to stop it,” as he described this governor’s actions as “a truly new low.” It’s pretty hard to establish a new low for corruption in Illinois politics, especially in the governor’s mansion, but apparently Blagojevich is an over-achiever in at least that respect.
Today’s developments prompted Robert Grant of the Chicago FBI office to say (C-Span), “Today certainly is a new low for the state of Illinois. People ask me if Illinois is the most corrupt state. If it isn’t the most corrupt, it’s certainly one hell of a competitor.” (Great! Glad to hear we’re still competitive at something, then.) Grant went on to say that FBI agents who listened to the bugged conversations that came from 2 rooms in the governor’s re-election headquarters were “thoroughly revolted, shocked and disgusted.”
One FBI agent said that the conversations “would make Lincoln roll over in his grave,” while Dick Durbin said, somewhat understatedly, in calling for a special election to fill Obama’s Senate seat, “If the allegations are proven true, he (Blagojevich) has clearly abused the public trust.” (The sad matter is that Blagojevich, who bonded out of jail after his 6:30 a.m.arrest at his home, still has the power to appoint the next Illinois Senator, as he is still the sitting governor of my home state.)
In a November 10th phone call, the governor discussed securing a position that would pay his wife handsomely with an organization called “Change to Win,” which is affiliated with the SEIU (Service Employees International Union). Blagojevich was squeezing the CEO of Children’s Memorial Hospital for a big campaign contribution before he would grant funding to the hospital. He was irate that the Chicago Tribune editorial board was giving him grief, and wanted those who editorialized against him fired. When it appeared that there would be staff cuts at the Tribune (which has just declared bankruptcy) and that some might involve editorial writers who had been critical of the governor Rod said, in a November 4th conversation, that he wanted the Tribune to “fire the editorial writers and get us some editorial support.” His aide, John Harris (who was also indicted) said that, reading between the lines, the cuts announced by the Tribune would seem to indicate that this goal was becoming a reality and the governor responded, “Wow! Keep our fingers crossed. You’re the man! Good job, John.”
There was an attempt to get $7 million in kickbacks for state contracts. There was railing against our new president, who told the governor to cool it for at least 2 years and do nothing, “He tells me to suck it up for 2 years and do nothing. F*** him!” There was endemic hiring fraud. There was Chief fundraiser Christopher G. Kelly trying to get $2.5 million from companies in campaign contribution by year’s end. There has been testimony that Blagojevich schemed with Tony Rezko to obstruct the IRS (Stuart Levine fundraiser testimony). I’m sure all of we citizens of Chicago paying 10.25% in sales tax (the highest in the nation) and facing increases in downtown parking fees (surely among the highest in any city) and in public transit fees feel “helped” by the governor’s actions.
I remember when the governor came to my former school district in Silvis, Illinois and promised funds for a badly needed new school. There was a lot of positive publicity, with the governor posing with a great big paper check and the kids giving him sweatshirts and good P.R. opportunities. But there was never any money for a new school, as promised, and that left the school board and the school district not knowing whether to try to pass a bond issue, wait for the governor to finally make good on his promises, or try to muddle along in the rapidly-deteriorating building.
Investigator Fitzgerald, in a C-Span Q&A I watched, thanked the Tribune for withholding an investigative piece they were going to run with that would have placed the FBI investigation in jeopardy. “I have to take my hat off to the Tribune for not running that story,” said Fitzgerald, adding later, “We ought to credit the Chicago Tribune” and adding “There were people out there who were pretty damned angry, and decided ‘I’m going to do something about it.'”
And it appears that they have.
When asked to comment, President-elect Obama said, “Obviously, like the rest of the people of Illinois, I am shocked and saddened. As this is an ongoing investigation into the governor, I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to comment at this time.”
I pray for 2 things: 1) that the crazies don’t try to drag our new president into the mess, just because they’re sore losers and (2) that Patrick Fitzgerald and all honest men like him continue to do their work in safety and do not incur retribution for taking down the evil-doers.