Blagojevich is still everywhere – and some can smile about it
Illinois' ex-governor, the subject of a hit musical, is relentlessly seeking the limelight. Will it help him if he ends up going to trial?
The wig gets the first laugh.Skip to next paragraph
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The mighty mane, atop the cranium of comedic improviser Joey Bland, is revealed under the blaze of red stage lights. Upon catching a first glimpse, the Chicago audience howls, knowing before even a word of dialogue is spoken what that coiffure means: Gov. Rod Blagojevich is back.
Well, his 'do is back, anyway. It's caked in hairspray each night to replicate the famous uber bangs of the title character, subject of a new musical now in its second sold-out run since opening in early February. “Rod Blagojevich Superstar!” is more than just another hit show by Second City, Chicago's comedy institution. It's also something of a cathartic outlet for Illinoisans who have seen one of their government institutions slammed in national headlines, once again, over political corruption.
Pay-for-play politics is certainly not new to people in and around the Windy City, but the arrest last December of the governor and his subsequent impeachment were rude reminders, coming off the elation of electing a US president from the neighborhood.
The Blagojevich saga is “embarrassing because he brought so much negative attention to something Illinois is already embarrassed about,” says Matt Hovde, the musical’s director. “We wouldn’t have written a show about [former New York Gov.] Eliot Spitzer … because he went away quietly and there wouldn’t have been a story there. The story here is this guy thinks of himself basically as a modern-day Jesus who loves the limelight. But he’s a governor of Illinois who did nothing different except to make people angry. It’s absurd.”
If the Blagojevich episode were not such ripe material for a musical, the twists and turns since his arrest on federal corruption charges would make a first-rate soap opera.
The former governor has taken his case to network talk shows, including “The Late Show With David Letterman,” “The View,” and “Good Morning America,” in addition to holding impromptu press conferences outside his North Side home while preparing for his daily jogs. Besides reciting a Rudyard Kipling poem to reporters to infer that he will be vindicated, Mr. Blagojevich is also reported to be heard on FBI wiretaps suggesting Oprah Winfrey as a suitable replacement for President Obama’s vacated Senate seat. (It was eventually filled by Democrat Roland Burris.)
Last week, Blagojevich hosted the morning show on WLS 890 AM, where he played songs by Elvis Presley (a favorite), compared himself with Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman, and told listeners his impeachment was a conspiracy to raise state taxes.
The media blitz is effective, says Blagojevich spokesman Glenn Selig, because “people seem enamored by him and fascinated by him.”
“He’s a likable guy, and he can take complex issues and simplify them so people can get it,” Mr. Selig says. “People see themselves in him. He’ll look for any opportunity that will give him a place to speak out.”