Mesmerizing Crime Stories

#10

The Rod Blagojevich Saga

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Illinois has always had a colorful history of corruption. Secretary of State Paul Powell died in 1971 with $800,000 in shoeboxes in his Springfield hotel room. He is reported to have remarked, “The saddest thing in the world is a broke former politician.” Former governor Otto Kerner was convicted in 1973 of taking a bribe to fix the racing dates for Arlington Park, a crime that came to light because the track owner deducted the payoff on her tax return as an ordinary cost of doing business—and perhaps she had a point. But even by Illinois’s jaded standards, Rod Blagojevich surely represents a new low, if there is even some truth to his federal indictment. What stands out about Blagojevich is his staggering cynicism, his style of hairdo politics that brazenly elevated appearance over substance and regarded voters with Barnum-like contempt. Blagojevich had not been in office six months when prominent Democratic legislators began to complain privately that he had no real interest in governing. He captured headlines with grandstanding gestures—importing lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada for example—but spent most of his time at home, where the rumors have it he was playing videogames. In the meantime, Blagojevich repeatedly tried to figure out the profit margin on the actions he took as governor—refusing, for example, to increase pediatric Medicaid reimbursements until the CEO of the state’s largest children’s hospital contributed $50,000 to his campaign. He seemed to believe that if he amassed a large enough campaign chest, he would be unbeatable for reelection, no matter how little he accomplished. That proved to be correct when he was reelected in 2006.

Turow is an attorney and bestselling author of Presumed Innocent.

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