August 29, 2009
BY CAROL MARIN Sun-Times Columnist
"I don't want to be portrayed that I don't have any feelings whatsoever. You know what . . . it's Illinois politics . . . Illinois politics is a contact sport . . . If you want to play it, get in the game and you may get hurt. I paid a very serious price."
------Scott Fawell on WTTW's "Chicago Tonight"
E-mails were thrown like bricks through my computer screen in the wake of my interview with Scott Fawell last week.
It's clear he still has the talent to make people apoplectic.
Fawell was Gov. George Ryan's Karl Rove back in the glory days when Republicans actually had power in this state. He's out of prison now, out of work and short on cash.
After five years of being locked up as a result of the federal corruption probe that has his former boss still behind bars, Fawell broke years of silence by appearing with his lover/fiancee Andrea Coutretsis on Channel 11 on Wednesday night.
In many ways, it was the couple's coming out party after his convictions on racketeering and bid-rigging charges and hers for perjury.
Fawell, 52, who still carries himself like a cocky frat boy, arrived with his arm around the still-stunning Coutretsis, 40. They looked more like a couple returning from West Palm Beach than two felons back from Club Fed.
The interview almost didn't happen.
It was first set for July, but Fawell abruptly canceled after we made it clear that questions would be asked about the family of the Rev. Scott and Janet Willis and the horrific 1994 accident, caused by an unqualified truck driver, that killed six of their children. That trucker bought his commercial drivers license with a bribe back when George Ryan was secretary of state and Scott Fawell was his chief of staff.
Fawell was candid about canceling, saying that if he told the honest-to-God truth about it from his point of view, people would hate his answer. While it was tragic, he said, he did not feel any personal responsibility for the Willis tragedy.
But he reconsidered. The interview was reset for Wednesday. And I asked the Willis question. Though they weren't charged with the deaths, weren't Fawell, Ryan and everyone attached to that bribe-soaked corruption in some way responsible?
Give Fawell credit for his answer.
He didn't tweak it, tune it up or soften it around the edges as he sat before the cameras. He said exactly what he'd said on the phone a month earlier: "It's a tragedy. . . . I'm sorry it ever happened . . . but no. Do I feel any responsibility? Carol, no, I really don't."
Viewers erupted in a flurry of fury.
"His answer on the incinerated kids shows the literal disintegration of a conscious soul -- he cannot accept his role, so he denies it. . . . He is disgusting," wrote one avowed Republican viewer.
"Your interview was nothing more than a free commercial for him that served no public interest purpose," wrote another.
My take is a bit different.
I think broadcasting the Fawell interview was in fact a public service. He is the face of Illinois politics. Not burdened by remorse and not ready, even after Rod Blagojevich, for reform.
It was not unlike watching Gov. Quinn's surreal news conference last week, when he vetoed the campaign finance reform bill he had previously hailed as "landmark legislation." Making the event even crazier was the presence of Speaker of the House Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, who triumphantly passed that lousy, loophole-ridden legislation in hopes that the public wouldn't see it for what it was. But the public did, forcing them all into retreat as they swore they'd do better next time.
Sad to say, Scott Fawell telling his terrible, remorseless truth is easier to swallow than promises like that.