Chicago pride crisis
With scandal, Ill. goes from glory to ridicule
CHICAGO (AP) Illinois should be basking in the glory of native son Barack Obama's presidential election victory and a high-profile bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Instead, with the ignominious fall of another Illinoisan, it's become an object of national ridicule.
"We were up in the stratosphere, and then comes this one idiot Rod Blagojevich," lamented Denise Donald, a 57-year-old resident of the South Side Chicago neighborhood the president-elect calls home.
Blagojevich, the Democratic governor, was arrested last week for allegedly trying to shop Obama's vacated Senate seat to the highest bidder, among other charges. The scandal came as Illinois and Chicago in particular was hoping to move its reputation beyond its associations with seedy politics and gangsters.
Just before Blagojevich was charged, GQ magazine picked Chicago as its "City of the Year" for 2008, citing Obama's election triumph and, ironically, the burgeoning influence of Chicago politicians on the national stage.
"It's like when you're well-dressed and feeling good," Donald said. "Then someone points out a stain on your clothes and you think, 'I'm still pretty but not quite as pretty as I thought.'"
It's also hard to maintain quite the same poise when your state has suddenly become a favorite butt of late-night jokes.
Last weekend's opening skit on "Saturday Night Live" focused on Blagojevich, poking fun at his expletive-laden tirades caught on secret recordings and painting him as a Chicago tough guy (when everyone in the state knows he doesn't have a Chicago accent). In a "Weekend Update" segment, Seth Meyers noted that even other Illinois politicians thought Blagojevich should resign.
"When Illinois politicians think you're too corrupt, you're too corrupt," Meyers said. "That's like Amy Winehouse telling you to go to rehab."
Illinois lawmakers have convened a legislative panel to quickly consider impeaching Blagojevich.
Republicans have been working to capitalize on the public disgust by pressuring Democrats to allow a special election to fill Obama's Senate seat. The state's Democratic majority left town this week without taking up calls for an election.
"When you think of Illinois, for a long time it was defined by Al Capone and that sort of thing," said state Sen. Christine Radogno, a Republican from Lemont. "It seemed like we sort of moved away from that when we got some good stuff in this state like Michael Jordan. Oprah. ... And now we are back squarely focused on corruption, scandal, dysfunction. It's so unfair to the people we represent."
Some fear the taint of scandal could hurt Chicago's bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.
A finalist in the process, many here believed Chicago's selection by the International Olympic Committee would be a slam dunk with an internationally popular Chicagoan as U.S. president. Now, many wonder if Blagojevich erases that advantage.
Not everyone agrees the governor's alleged misdeeds should tar the entire state.
"It's on him," said Alice Bowman, working in the Bronzeville Visitor Information Center's gift shop on Chicago's South Side. "Get this man in an orange jumpsuit. But what's it got to do with Illinois or Obama?"
Associated Press writers Christopher Wills in Springfield, Jim Suhr in St. Louis and Adam Goldman in Chicago contributed to this report.
(This version corrects that Blagojevich has been charged but not indicted.)
Illinois Governor Arrested On Corruption Charges
The Case Against Blagojevich
Listen: U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's News Conference
The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering.U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald
Analysis From The 'Political Junkie' Blog
About Gov. Blagojevich
Rod Blagojevich was born Dec. 10, 1956, in Chicago. His father, Rade, originally came to the city from Yugoslavia following World War II and worked in a steel mill.
Who Is Patrick Fitzgerald?
The arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges is the latest in a long list of high-profile cases for Patrick Fitzgerald. As the U.S. attorney from Chicago and son of an Irish doorman Fitzgerald has taken the lead on cases involving terrorism, organized crime and the Bush administration officials.
NPR.org, December 9, 2008 · Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his top aide were arrested Tuesday on corruption charges following a federal investigation of the 51-year-old Democrat's administration.
Among the allegations: Blagojevich conspired to benefit financially from his role in appointing a U.S. senator to fill the vacancy left by Barack Obama's election as president.
In a criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday, Blagojevich and Chief of Staff John Harris, 46, were accused of conspiring to commit mail and wire fraud and influence-peddling in a deal involving the Chicago Tribune.
After a brief court appearance Tuesday afternoon, the governor was released on bail. Blagojevich, who has been under investigation since 2003, has denied wrongdoing.
'Sad Day' For Government
Chicago FBI chief Robert Grant said he woke the governor about 6 a.m. to tell him that two agents were at the door with a warrant for this arrest.
"This is a sad day for government," U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said at a news conference.
The complaint against Blagojevich and Harris alleges the two conspired to defraud the state of Illinois through the mail and telephone communications.
The pair also allegedly pressured the Tribune Co. to fire several members of the Chicago Tribune editorial board in exchange for state assistance in the purchase of Wrigley Field. The Tribune Co. owns Wrigley Field and was attempting to negotiate the sale of the historic Chicago ballpark to the Illinois Finance Authority.
Chicago Tribune editor Gerould Kern said Tuesday he was never pressured by Blagojevich or anyone from the Tribune Co. over any editorials, according to the newspaper.
"I never got a complaint. I never got any contact whatsoever from Blagojevich, no complaint nothing from inside Tribune Co.," Kern is quoted as saying.
According to an FBI affidavit, agents intercepted a number of phone calls outlining illegal behavior when they tapped the telephones at Blagojevich's home and campaign office for 30 days beginning Oct. 22. Court documents state that Blagojevich and Harris engaged in numerous "pay-to-play" schemes involving millions of dollars.
A Senator's Job 'For Sale'?
"The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering," Fitzgerald said. "They allege that Blagojevich put a 'for sale' sign on the naming of a United States senator; involved himself personally in pay-to-play schemes with the urgency of a salesman meeting his annual sales target; and corruptly used his office in an effort to trample editorial voices of criticism."
The FBI began investigating allegations of corruption in the Blagojevich administration in 2003, according to the affidavit used to obtain the criminal complaint and search warrants. The affidavit by the FBI agent Daniel Cain said Blagojevich began conspiring to profit from his office in 2002 and that the conspiracy continued through recent weeks.
It outlines numerous outrageous conversations involving Blagojevich including that the governor conspired to sell or trade President-elect Obama's Senate seat for financial and personal benefits for Blagojevich and his wife.
Also included in the affidavit are allegations that:
Blagojevich and Harris conspired with convicted political fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko, businessmen Stuart Levine and Ali Ata, and others to obtain financial benefits for himself and his family.
Blagojevich discussed getting a salary from a non-profit organization or a labor union affiliate; putting his wife in paid positions on corporate boards for as much as $150,000 a year; campaign contributions; and an ambassadorship for himself.
Blagojevich discussed using his authority to get an appointment to be the secretary of Health and Human Services in the Obama administration.
Previous Governor In Prison
Blagojevich replaced former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, who is currently serving a 6 1/2-year prison sentence. Ryan, who was governor from 1999 to 2003, was convicted of corruption in 2006 for steering state contracts and leases to political insiders while he was Illinois secretary of state and governor.
Illinois Republican Party Chairman Andy McKenna called on Blagojevich to resign immediately.
McKenna said Blagojevich also must not appoint a U.S. senator "under this cloud of extremely serious allegations." The governor has the power to appoint Obama's replacement in the Senate.
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin said the state's voters should decide who fills Obama's vacant Senate seat. "I think the Illinois general assembly should enact a law as quickly as possible calling for a special election to fill the Senate vacancy of Barack Obama," Durbin said. "No appointment by this governor under these circumstances could produce a credible replacement."
Related NPR Stories
Page mailing to a friend temporary disabled