Chicago Sun-Times

The Peak and the Valley: Obama & Blago

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January 17, 2009

BY CAROL MARIN Sun-Times Columnist

I've left Springfield and re-packed my bags for Washington, D.C.

State capital, nation's capital.

Two historic news zones on separate planets as we both impeach and inaugurate, ready to remove a governor and welcome a new president.

The state Senate that gave political birth to Barack Obama could soon strike the political death knell for Rod Blagojevich.

Both alumni from the land of Lincoln, both spellbinding stories.

From CNN to Al Jazeera, the whole world can't stop watching.

The day the FBI arrested the governor on Dec. 9, a defense lawyer I've known for years was meeting with a prisoner-client in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. When he landed back in Chicago, he called me, incredulous, saying, "I was in Gitmo, for God's sake! And all people could talk about was Rod Blagojevich!"

It's almost indescribable.

Equally hard to describe is Wednesday's scene in Springfield as the 96th General Assembly was sworn in.

The air under the Capitol dome was filled with tension, solemnity, and irony. In the Senate chamber, congratulatory bouquets blanketed the desktops.

Little girls in velvet dresses and boys in clip-on ties skipped around the Senate floor, waiting to see a parent or grandparent take the oath of office.

But even the kids knew to shut up when the governor arrived. As Blagojevich gaveled the session to order, there was dead silence and not a single soul applauded. The governor seemed thinner, jittery, a little lost, adjusting his tie, pulling at his cuffs.

And often the pomp and circumstance of the occasion collided with the heavy purpose ahead. It started with the march down the aisle of black-robed justices of the Illinois Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Thomas Fitzgerald, who will preside over Blagojevich's impeachment trial.

Then there was the solemn delivery of the evidence.

The governor had left the chamber by then.

Boxes of it were rolled in, on a cart, escorted by senators and the sergeant-at-arms.

The sight of it took Sen. John Milner's breath away. And that's saying something, since Milner, an Elmhurst Republican, has been a police chief for much of his long law enforcement career and has seen a lot of evidence delivered.

"It was like a funeral procession," he told me later, "like a casket down an aisle of a church. It was somber . . . surreal."

Milner stayed behind in the chamber for a while after the session had adjourned, just sitting at his desk, trying to find the words. "I can't articulate how I'm feeling." He wasn't alone.

Outside the governor's office later that day, it was the duty of two sergeants-at-arms to deliver a summons to inform Blagojevich of the charges against him and to compel him to respond.

There was a crowd of media clustered outside.

As the sergeants approached, in silence we opened up a path for them to make their way to the governor's door.

There was an unexpected lump in my throat. Never in our history have we done this before.

But, as Newton instructs, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

And that's coming Tuesday in the nation's capital when Barack Obama, African-American senator from Illinois, puts his hand on Abraham Lincoln's Bible and takes the oath of office for the whole world to see.

Never in our history have we done this before.

As much as we bash and complain about government, we count on it. We want to have faith in it. And want to trust those who lead it.

In 2002, when Blagojevich became our first Democratic governor in 26 years, he saw himself on the road to the White House, never imagining a little-known South Sider in the Statehouse would live his dream.

Someone who will take our breath away -- for the right reasons.

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The historic time that America voters find themselves in could be a praxis toward a much better democracy, if the promise of the web and Obama do result in a more open government (unlike the Republicans who had to hide their motives and lie to get the people behind their war, etc...). People like Blago do not want an open government, and he is not alone. The old way of doing politics is obviously alive and well in Chicago.

When I was going to college, I drove cab for American United, which is owned by the Bottala Family, who is about as mobbed up as they get. I used to see police officers sitting in their cars outide the offices counting cash this family had just given them. I do not know why, because I avoided their criminal ways as much as possible (to be fair, Tony seems to have given this life up). Now the more I learn about Daly and the machine, the more it seems that until this entire culture of 'gang' like thinking is done away with, and the politics of us and them replaced by the great we, Chicago will continue to do things like hire Daly's friends to pave the roads not with the rubber that they use in England and lasts twice as long, but the crap they use that wears out quick and requires more labor. The same techniques could be used for pot holes, but no... there is no true criminal oversite in the Daly administration. And as long as they control politics in the Democratic sector of this city, they will all be covering each others buts and not talking.

The one good thing that could come out of the Governor's idiocy will be if he talks about all the other crooks in government. Why not make the prosecutor Fitzgerald the Mayor for a few years? Jessie Jackson Junior should get his shot, too... we'll see. Unfortunately, we will probably have to wait until this dynasty dies to get a government that is not run by a corrupt machine.

Blago has no fear. His is special breed of criminal insanity. But we must all thank him for the civics lesson. At the end of the road is a (very imperfect) impeachment process that has a few kinks to work out. It's like a kit that got put in the closet 30 years ago--will it work? Dust it off, starts up fine.

The question is: will Blago inspire a generation of reform (as we all hope) or will his head be stuck on a pike (as Ryan's was for his sins) as a warning for ambitious pols not to go THAT far?

If genuine reformers do not start to make it past the flesh-peddlers in their own parties to offer change to the voters, this will not lead to anything of any use to us. It will just change the names to something easier to spell, the hairstyles to something less mockable. At least our current crown prince is entertaining. The others laugh at us, without returning the favor. If there is a redeeming feature to Blago, that is it.

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This page contains a single entry by Carol Marin published on January 17, 2009 10:15 AM.

Mad Scramble For Rahm's Seat was the previous entry in this blog.

Speaking the Language of Empowerment is the next entry in this blog.

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