Rod, We Knew Thee Too Well

Our long national nightmare is over.

The many moods of G-Rod

The many moods of G-Rod

OK, it wasn’t so long, if you date it from the arrest. And it wasn’t national, not really, until the Ramblin’ Rod Roadshow kicked off earlier this week. Though the connection to the POTUS did make things more interesting even before then. Still, the political train wreck that was/is Rod Blagojevich certainly counted as nightmarish, especially for us Illinoisans.

The whole CT-to Chicago-and-back part of the Crisis has been nicely framed by political symmetry, with corruption as the theme. As I mentioned before, the day we got here in 2004, John Rowland, ex-gov of my home state, went up the river for his own malfeasance. With that behind me, I tried to acquaint myself with the nuance of politics here in Chicago and the state as a whole. Big mistake. Anything you read about the antics of the Land of Lincoln (AKA the Corruption State: So Whatcha Gonna Do About It?) can’t prepare you for the reality. If you care about good government, you’re just going to find yourself quickly stumbling for air, nauseous and woozy.

What did I know about Blago? Nada, except he was a Dem and replaced a guy who had gone to jail. I soon learned that he styled himself a reformer, the people’s governor, and he never ever did anything wrong. He loved TV cameras, except when there was any hint of trouble anywhere in his administration. His wife made very cozy real estate deals with his cronies. And he refused to work with half the legislative leaders of his own party, creating incredible gridlock.

By 2006, I knew Rod was a clown. But a clown who had amassed a huge war chest and looked unbeatable. I voted for the challenger in the primary and the Green Party candidate in the general election. With his millions, Rod blanketed the airwaves with campaign ads and easily defeated his opponent, Judy Baar Topinka. I’ve heard her many times on the radio. She seems like a nice lady. Good sense of humor. Plays the accordion. She knew Rod was a crook, but few people listened.

After the arrest in December, I and many others were convinced Rod is delusional. I would bet a shrink would officially say he’s a sociopath, but I’m not sure. But he is not dumb, and he has the gift of oratorical gab, or so some here claim. I never really heard him that way, because I knew everything that came out of his mouth was a lie, including “and” and “the” (yes, I stole that, if you don’t recognize it).

It pained me the other day, hearing him still trying to paint himself as the great crusader for the common man. Now, in this case, he wasn’t totally lying. He did do some of the things he said he did. Problem is, some were illegal. Most involved doing an end-around with the legislature. Most worsened the state’s already-bleak fiscal situation. How bad is it? In November the state owned $ 4 billion to contractors, and it was $44 billion short on its contributions to pension funds. Blago boasted about not raising the (regressive) state income tax, but in the meantime, cities and counties that weren’t getting any new help from the state raised their taxes and fees. The sale tax in Cook County is currently 10.25 percent, and if you eat in the tonier sections of Chicago, it goes up to 11. Welcome!

So he was a bad governor and an egomaniac. Is that why he was canned? Partly. The rest, of course, was his perfection of that fine political practice called pay-to-play. I never heard this term before coming here, though I know it’s not unique to Illinois. Still, it is an art form here. The charges in the complaint the feds released last month were just the icing on the cake.

Cellini and his friend; man, they grow their hair thick here. Well, maybe not Patti...

Cellini and his friend; man, they grow their hair thick here. Well, maybe not Patti...

Blago’s trial could be interesting, if he starts to tell the truth for the first time in his career. Another interesting trial could be unfolding soon. Republican powerbroker William Cellini faces charges for shaking down a guy for campaign contributions. For Blago. A Republican helping a Democrat? How odd, you say. Not in Illinois, where the small clique that really runs things is bipartisan (the Combine), and from what I read in the columns of the Tribune‘s John Kass, pretty cozy with the Mafia, known as the Outfit here.

(A Cellini tidbit, partly gleaned from Kass: He was a big patron of Ray LaHood when he was an Illinois congressman. LaHood is now the Sec of Transportation. And what did the Obama Administration push in its stimulus package regarding transportation? Building roads and bridges. And LaHood’s friend Cellini just happens to be in charge of the Illinois Asphalt Pavement Association. OK, now I’m starting to scare myself vis-a-vis sounding like a conspiracy nut. But pavers will make out well if all those new roads and bridges get built, right? And odds are Cellini knows some guys in the biz outside the state. And none of them get nothing for high-speed rail lines and the like. Let’s see where most of the transportation money goes. And I don’t think it’s any revelation to say that historically the Mafia has played a large role in the construction industry and it unions [here’s just one example]…).

What does all this mean? That as bad as Rod is, it’s the system that stinks in Illinois, and probably a few other places too. He’s gone, but the guys who helped him get elected are still there, both in politics and the world of business. I’m glad I’m leaving Chicago for only one reason: I’m sick of the corruption on all levels and how we taxpayers pay for it by funding the huge settlements in lawsuits paid out for bad cops, and the wages of inept municipal workers who get their jobs through nepotism, and the bloated contracts that go to the companies getting sweetheart deals. And on the federal level, as much as I think we need a stimulus package, I think the Republicans are right to be wary about where lots of those billions are going and how they will be spent – especially with so many products of the Chicago system calling the shots.

Hartford mayor Eddie Perez in happier days

Hartford mayor Eddie Perez in happier days

Yeah, let me go back to Connecticut, Land of Steady Habits (AKA Land of Boring Suburbs). At least the politics there aren’t like – wait: you say the mayor of Hartford, city of my birth, was just arrested on corruption charges? And a Democratic candidate for gov had to be shamed into rejecting a cushy government job that smacked with cronyism?

Ah, political symmetry, indeed.

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~ by mburgan on January 31, 2009.

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