Rod Blagojevich found guilty on 17 counts. Is it a turning point for Illinois?
In a retrial, Rod Blagojevich is convicted of corruption stemming from the sale of President Obama's seat in the US Senate. The former Illinois governor says he's 'stunned.'
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“People talked about the retrial wasting taxpayer money and I’m curious to see if that persists in the light of this verdict,” she says.Skip to next paragraph
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The second trial, like the first, exposed the tribal nature of Chicago and Illinois state politics. On wiretapped recordings, Blagojevich was heard trying to both ingratiate himself with state and federal lawmakers and also lashing out against them. In testimony on the stand, Blagojevich apologized to jurors for his language and appeared to portray himself as a humble public servant whose schemes were aimed at appeasing his political enemies.
In his testimony, Blagojevich outlined what he said was his true intent for Obama’s Senate seat: that it would go to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the daughter of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, Blagojevich’s chief political nemesis. According to Blagojevich, he wanted to award Ms. Madigan the seat so her father would support his legislative agenda that was deemed unpopular at the time.
Reform advocates say that Blagojevich’s strategy in showing that horse-trading is just part of the political culture here is insufficient and Monday’s verdict should impact others who are conditioned to pay-for-play politics.
“The message that needs to be delivered to voters, to candidates, and to people that work for candidates [is] that corruption … is not business as usual. All these people who say ‘I was just doing what everybody was doing’ should go to jail,” says David Morrison, deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, a nonprofit public interest group in Chicago. “I am always hopeful that this is the one [trial] that will sink in and convince people to stop.”
Blagojevich is the second Illinois governor in a row convicted of corruption. Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan currently sits in federal prison serving a 6 1/2-year sentence.
US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who led the case against Blagojevich, referenced the Ryan case Monday to reporters, saying it should have been a signal that public tolerance for corrupt officials had eroded. Blagojevich “did not get that message,” Mr. Fitzgerald said.
Although Illinois political history is thick with sordid tales of graft and other wrongdoing, the Blagojevich case will likely be perceived as a turning point that will make public officials think twice before cutting deals without thinking the public is watching, says David Hoffman, a former Chicago Inspector General.
Mounting public resentment and digital media advancements are collectively getting the edge over public officials who may believe their illicit actions may have no consequences nor may see the light of day, says Mr. Hoffman.
“For too long, there has been this myth that we in Illinois are so beaten down by the state’s history of corruption that people are tolerant of public officials who act in a very blatant way to advance their private interests,” he says. “Anyone who has grown up with the Internet knows that it makes no sense to believe that government will not become transparent over time. It will make it harder for officials to engage in widespread corruption schemes. Combine that with public anger with these types of cases and I’m actually optimistic that [the Blagojevich case] is something that will not be forgotten.”