Jim Dey: Blagojevich still not sorry for what he did

Jim Dey: Blagojevich still not sorry for what he did

Hear from senator Chapin Rose Thursday at 7:40 on WDWS.

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich may be out of sight, serving a lengthy sentence in a Colorado prison.

But, for at least this week, he's not out of mind.

That's because he's given interviews to two Chicago media outlets, one magazine and one television station, that reveal what his prison life is like and include his reflections on his hyper-ambitious career as an Illinois politician. He was first a state legislator, then a member of Congress and, finally, governor of Illinois.

As most people remember, he crashed and burned as governor, was impeached and removed from office, and indicted and convicted on a series of corruption charges. One involved an effort to sell former President Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat, which was to become vacant following Obama's election as president in 2008.

That led to the early-morning FBI raid at the Blagovich's residence, starting with a phone call to the governor by authorities that they were outside and planned to arrest him.

"Is this a joke?" the governor asked.

It was no joke, as Blagojevich now understands. He's being held in a minimum-security facility in Colorado, one without walls that is located adjacent to a golf course and widely characterized as a "Club Fed" facility.

But if Blagojevich was unrealistic in his understanding of his duty to the people of Illinois, he fully realizes that his freedom is restricted, and his future is bleak.

"It's really a prison," he insisted to a reporter from Chicago Magazine.

His prison job is to clean floors, earning less than $9 a month in compensation. He reads and exercises prodigiously, tries to steer clear of trouble, and gets along better with convicted drug dealers than he does with white-collar scam artists.

Isn't that interesting, considering that Blagojevich's public life was that of a flim-flam man dedicated to moving ever-higher up the political ladder?

He was so busy running for the next office — Blagojevich even dreamed of the presidency — that he never gave much thought or showed much interest in the job he had at the time.

Stories abound about his failure to come to work every day and his preference for staying home to read or go out for a jog. He abhorred dealing with complicated and difficult financial issues, to the point that he would hide in the bathroom when his budget team would show up to discuss the state's increasingly shaky finances.

He had a taste for fancy suits and nice ties, dyed his thick mane of hair jet black and was suitably charming in any situation.

Who can forget the time he showed up on the University of Illinois campus, where he was confronted with tasteless "Blagojevich sucks" T-shirts worn by ill-mannered students. The governor posed for a picture with a T-shirt and T-shirt wearer.

Even now, he's a master of the one-liner, the kind that convinced even skeptical audiences that "Blagojevich the politician" wasn't so bad.

"My jurisdiction has shrunk from the fifth biggest state in America to these two floors, but I don't care what anybody says. ... I believe in clean government, and clean floors," Blagojevich said of his former job of being governor and his current job of cleaning floors.

His glib personality continues to serve him well. Blagojevich related an incident where he was able to defuse potential ugliness after he noticed that a group of "big muscle guys" were giving him a menacing stare.

"I didn't know what to say. So I said, 'I'll never have arms as big as former governor (Arnold) Schwarzenegger's, but I do believe my arms are finally bigger than former (Alaska) Gov. (Sarah) Palin's,'" he said.

Actually, Blagojevich wasn't just a bad governor, he was a terrible governor with a dollop of corruption on top.

His tenure, following that of corrupt Republican predecessor George Ryan, began in January 2003, and it was a downhill slide into incompetence and corruption, setting the stage for the sickening financial and government dysfunction that currently ails Illinois.

A slew of his former friends and political associates ended up in prison in connection with Blagojevich's ceaseless efforts to trade jobs, state contracts and grants, and appointments to public bodies for cash or campaign donations.

In terms of size, the broad sweep of the Blagojevich corruption scheme has to be the most ambitious in the history of Illinois, a state whose history is steeped in governmental corruption at all levels.

But even now, Blagojevich denies it all, and it appears that's not just for the sake of legal appearances. After a relentless series of appeals, in which five of the 18 convictions against him were thrown out, he's got one more shot, a request that the U.S. Supreme Court review his case.

But he speaks of himself as an exalted victim who does not hate "the people who have done this to me" and contends he's trying to clear his name as a gift to his two daughters.

"I believe I knew what the law was, and I followed it. To say otherwise, to give in to the pressure, the threat and the fear of a long prison sentence would be to dishonor myself, setting a cowardly example for my daughter," he said.

Now 60, Blagojevich isn't scheduled to be released until he's 68. He reports that he lives one day at a time and working on projects — writing, reading, working out — to pass the time and escape what he calls a deep loneliness.

"It is a hard and unhappy experience. My life has been brought to ruin. I live in exile," he said.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or by phone at 217-351-5369.

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IlliniwekMerica wrote on September 13, 2017 at 8:09 am

Pritzker tried to buy the Illinois Treasurer position from Blago around the time of selling the Senate seat. People forget that.  He'll likely be our next governor, so I'd say he seems like the kinda guy that can keep our state's proud tradition of imprisioned former governors alive and well.