Chicago Sun-Times

"Not Our Patti": An Exclusive Interview With First Lady's Family

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BY CAROL MARIN AND CHRIS FUSCO Staff Reporters

Lady Macbeth. Carmela Soprano. Potty mouth.

Patti Blagojevich leaves her home Wednesday morning. "She is particularly protective of her family," her sister Deborah Mell says.

Patti Blagojevich is not any of those, her family said Wednesday.

"That is absolutely not my sister," Deborah Mell told the Chicago Sun-Times and NBC5 in an exclusive interview. "Patti is a mother, a sister and a devoted wife.

"She is particularly protective of her family."

So what about the profanity-laced tirade allegedly recorded by the feds and beamed around the world after Tuesday's arrest of her husband, Gov. Blagojevich?

Mell, a newly elected state representative; her father, Ald. Dick Mell (33rd), and brother Rich Mell said those statements aren't representative of the first lady's personality. They acknowledged, though, that she has been stuck in a "pressure cooker" caused by federal investigations of her husband.

The Mells agreed to gather in the living room of Ald. Mell's Northwest Side home to try to set the record straight about the first lady's image.

It's the home where Patti Blagojevich made her own peanut butter sandwiches as a 5-year-old when her siblings were sick and her mother, Margaret, was tending to them.

The home where, as a 7-year-old, she cried when she watched a negative TV report focused on her dad.

The home where she quit her piano lessons. (She later told her father she wished he'd made her continue. Now, she helps her daughter Amy study oboe.)

Deborah and Dick admitted Illinois' first lady can be "standoffish" at times and fiercely protective of her husband. Ald. Mell recalled holiday discussions with his gubernatorial son-in-law -- with whom he has publicly feuded -- in which his daughter "jumped down my throat" if things got argumentative.

About a year into Gov. Blagojevich's first term, Mell himself raised questions about whether the governor's fund-raisers were trading seats on influential state boards for campaign contributions.

"At that time, I felt that I was right to say what I said. I don't know, that's ancient history," Mell said when asked if he would like to take back those allegations.

He's aware of the toll the feud has taken on the family.

"It's been very difficult; it's your daughter," he said. "Being estranged from your daughter is not a very pleasant situation."

Despite it all, he repeatedly referred to his daughter as "wonderful."

"Barbara Walters called her a potty mouth," he said. "I wonder what Barbara Walters sometimes says in a heated moment."

And, in further sizing up Patti Blagojevich's off-color statements about the Chicago Tribune editorial board that were secretly recorded by federal authorities, her family pointed out the stress the entire Blagojevich family has been under.

"I can understand it. This a pressure cooker she's living in," Deborah Mell said.

"She's loyal sometimes to a fault," Ald. Mell said. "Maybe she was hurt by the Tribune's editorials" about her husband.

Rich Mell, Patti's brother, said he often looks to his sister for parenting advice. On Wednesday, Gov. Blagojevich's birthday, Rich Mell was watching the first family's daughters, 12-year-old Amy and 5-year-old Annie, at his house. They played freeze tag in the basement with Rich Mell's 3-year-old son while he was with his newborn upstairs.

But, given their father's high-profile case, it's impossible to isolate them. Rich Mell recalled a story where Amy Blagojevich saw one of his neighbors sitting in a car outside his house, and Amy Blagojevich remarked that "it's probably a reporter."

The fact that Patti and the children are constantly being scrutinized is upsetting to him.

"There's a family involved," Rich Mell said. "It makes me angry, and I'm not at the center of the problem."

Deborah Mell, who spent Tuesday night at the Blagojevich house to help her sister -- said Amy has an excellent group of friends and isn't being teased at school.

However, the girls "see a massive media campaign outside their house. They see their parents upset," she said. "It affects the children. That's what's heartbreaking."

And more potential heartbreak awaits. Deborah Mell, who will be sworn in to her first term as state representative next month, said she doesn't know how she'll vote if the General Assembly takes up a bill to impeach her brother-in-law.

"I don't know what's going to happen. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it," she said. "I've thought about it briefly. That's not my focus right now."

Ald. Mell teared up when he talked about a conversation he had with his daughter Wednesday -- the first time he'd spoken to her in "quite a while."

"She said she's going through a rough time," he said. "But she said, as rough as it is, what happened two years ago when her mother died was harder."

Contributing: NBC5 producer Don Moseley

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2 Comments

BY CAROL MARIN AND CHRIS FUSCO Staff Reporters

Lady Macbeth. Carmela Soprano. Potty mouth.

GAME OVER.

IL Attny. General Pat FitzGerald, Please remove this Nepotistic Family Hopping FOUL MOUTH!!

Sounds like Obama. "not the person i know"

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This page contains a single entry by Carol Marin published on December 11, 2008 7:04 AM.

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