December 17, 2008
BY CAROL MARIN Sun-Times Columnist
Eddie Genson isn't speaking to me these days. Genson is the legendary Chicago defense attorney just hired by our woeful governor, Rod Blagojevich.
With a curly mane of graying red hair and the demeanor of the late British dramatic actor Charles Laughton, Genson is a performance artist. He's has been known to crack his cane across a defense table for the sheer theater of it or to bellow, "I am not your sweetie!" to a prosecution witness who dared address him as such. His presence fills up a courtroom and gives judges heartburn.
Today, Genson's stage will be Room 114 in the state Capitol as he arrives to defend the governor against the impeachment inquiry begun in the Illinois House.
Genson is also preparing for the federal indictment of his client after Blagojevich's jaw-dropping FBI arrest last week for allegedly trying to auction off Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder.
Genson doesn't talk to me anymore because of how I described him in an interview with Vanity Fair in February 2007.
The writer was superb reporter Maureen Orth, who was doing a profile of Lord Conrad Black, the robber baron who raped and pillaged the Chicago Sun-Times. Black is in prison now. Genson was one of Black's attorneys.
Orth asked me to describe Genson, and I recall giving a long description from which she selected this short sentence: "Many of Eddie's people [clients] are mobbed-up, crooked people."
Let me hasten to say I was quoted correctly. But Eddie called, wounded and angry that I had, in his view, damaged his reputation and miscast him as someone who defended mobsters when he had long ago moved on to more pinstriped, CEO types.
I apologized for causing him pain and meant it. But he hasn't forgiven me. We all care about how we are seen. And we all construct our own narratives.
Just because my favorite Genson clients include Jimmy "The Bomber" Catura (federal fraud, 1972) and Billy Dauber, feared mob enforcer, both of whom were later whacked by the Outfit, doesn't mean they are his favorites.
Just because on my top 10 list are the late Pat Marcy, 1st Ward powerbroker and mob court fixer; "Blind Louie" Cavallaro, juice loan collector and enforcer, and Jerry Scalise, Marlborough diamond jewel thief, doesn't mean they top his list.
And it's true, Genson has moved on. In more recent times, he has represented not just a British lord but R&B singer R. Kelly and former Gov. George Ryan's co- defendant, Larry Warner.
Though more have been guilty than innocent, Genson has had big wins, including R. Kelly on child pornography, Bruno Mancari in 2004 on murder for hire and the ghost-payrolling case of former state Sen. Miguel Santiago.
So when Eddie Genson, who suffers from a neuromuscular disorder, rides into the rotunda on his signature scooter, lawmakers better batten down the hatches.
Just as Genson cares deeply about how he is perceived, so do they. And he's likely to paint a narrative they won't be pleased with.
Like how House Democrats who had previously called for chopping off the governor's head can, with straight faces, now soberly declare they will keep "an open mind."
Or how all those Springfield types who embraced the glories of a bipartisan process can utter not a peep when House Speaker Michael Madigan stacks the deck so the impeachment committee will be run by a Democratic majority.
Or how, despite promises to the contrary, restoring Illinois' ruined reputation will not include a special election to pick Obama's successor because Democrats have pulled a shameless bait-and-switch.
I know Eddie Genson may be prouder of the politicians he's represented than the mobsters, but honestly, isn't it sometimes almost a toss-up?