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.