January 28, 2009
BY CAROL MARIN Sun-Times Columnist
With all due respect to friends in the national media, you didn't lay a glove on our gov.
While state senators were building the gallows in Springfield, Blago was gallivanting through the green rooms of New York, getting his Elvis hair tousled on "The View," looking all gee-whiz and relaxed on the couch with Whoopi and the girls.
Even when forced to sit like a kid in the principal's office before a giant video screen containing a stern Barbara Walters, he didn't break a sweat.
Except for Walters, the national interviews were softballs lobbed by questioners more fixated on profanity-laced FBI surveillance tapes of Bleepin' Blagojevich and wife Patti than by the details that drive this latest sordid chapter of Illinois' political history.
Before his tour de force ended, e-mails were pouring in asking, "How come the governor isn't being allowed to call witnesses at his impeachment trial . . . is that fair?"
Mission accomplished, Rod.
Sewing seeds of doubt for potential criminal jurors while changing the subject.
"It's easy to walk in and say, 'I'm not getting a fair trial or no due process or getting railroaded,' " said Illinois House Republican Leader Tom Cross. "The ability to probe is stronger here at home where the media have a deeper understanding of the criminal complaint and have watched him act over the last six years."
Which is exactly why Blago left home, skipped his trial and twirled his fire batons in the Big Apple.
Meanwhile, here at home, when four short federal undercover tapes were played Tuesday on the somber Senate floor, they had been stripped of expletives but spoke to the meat of this case.
The sound of Blago's voice talking to his brother jumps out, an urgent get-me-the-money voice, asking campaign chairman Robert Blagojevich if a racetrack owner who would benefit from the governor's signature on new horseracing legislation was going to kick over a contribution before the end of the year.
Time was of the essence because on Jan. 1, that same contribution would be illegal.
"OK, so . . ." Blago pressed, "but clearly before the end of the year, right?"
"Yeah, yeah," answered his brother.
What the national media could have asked, should have asked, again and again until the governor cried "uncle" was about the money, the jet fuel of his regime and of politics in this state and nation.
What about the money you tried to get from a CEO of Children's Memorial Hospital before you unlocked state funds for children's health care? What about that $25,000 check that the now-convicted head of your Finance Authority, Ali Ata, said he delivered to your office, one of several apparent down payments on his state job? What about Tony Rezko, your friend and prodigious fund-raiser who sits in a federal prison cell, convicted of orchestrating all manner of pay-to-play schemes on behalf of your administration? What about that $1,500 birthday check to one of your daughters from a close friend whose wife was getting a state job?
"We are in a post-Watergate space in the Legislature," state Rep. Will Burns, a freshman Democrat from Chicago, said Tuesday. "What drove the impeachment of this governor was the need for campaign cash. Same for George Ryan in the licenses-for-bribes probe, money for his campaign fund."
Burns is working with Citizen Action to come up, quickly, with a way to push public financing of campaigns so candidates don't have to rely on big-bucks donors to finance their campaigns.
Cindi Canary of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform is one of many working to put caps on the obscene amounts of cash Illinois pols can collect.
It will not be enough to remove this governor.
Nothing changes unless the system changes.