Thursday, May 18, 2006

Brother Blagojevich: Can you spare a favor?

Less than six months until the voters decide whether it is four more years for Democratic Governor Blagojevich or back to Republicans holding the Governor's mansion with the elevation of Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka to that office. Yesterday, at a presser, DuPage County State's Attorney and Topinka's running mate Lt. Gov. candidate Joe Birkett put on his boxing gloves and punched away at Blago. Birkett argued the Blagojevich Administration has been essentially selling state jobs for campaign contributions, and keeping track of such not unlike the way Republican George Ryan and his protege, Scott Fawell did it, with a long favors list.

Coming off the recent conviction of Governor Ryan on RICO and other charges, and the prior conviction of Fawell and his testimony at the Ryan trial against his former boss, the Topinka-Birkett timing appeared pretty good. However, Birkett, a former Golden Gloves fighter who describes himself as a counterpuncher, encountered some counterpunching himself at the presser from some of the media, who had been spun a bit [or given a friendly reminder] by the Blago campaign organization that Topinka herself had appeared eleven times on the famous Fawell-George Ryan favors list. Some of that counterpunching and other aspects of the Birkett presser, not covered below, are linked to, below. What can I say, fairandbalanced, as always.

In any case, consider all this mudslinging just a warm-up for the hour long sit-down by Topinka and Blagojevich scheduled for next Friday, May 26, at the taping of Dick Kay's last City Desk show for NBC-5 News. The show will air Sunday, May 28 at 9:00 am on NBC-5 in the Chicago Metro area.

Reliable sources tell me Bob Sirott is likely to inherit the City Desk show, with some help from Carol Marin. Sirott, who was sent packing by WTTW, is now an NBC-5 weekend news co-anchor, and likely to slip into the primary anchor slot for that station when it opens up. Sirott auditioned to become the new City Desk host earlier in the year by interviewing former Bears Coach Mike Dikta on the show when Kay was on vacation. I'll bet you didn't know Coach Ditka is a politician/public policy type of guy.

Marin, who was sent packing by the local CBS-2 news
and the CBS-2 Network, is now the lead political columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, the lead twice a week supposedly political/public policy segment host for WTTW, Ch. 11 and occasional investigative reporter for NBC-5 local news.

Sirott and Marin replace 71 year old political reporter Dick Kay on City Desk, after Kay's 38 years of doing political journalism at the station? It is all somewhat ironic, don't you think? That's life, just full of little ironies. *********************************************************
Jeff Berkowitz: Joe, is it illegal to keep a favors list? If somebody makes a recommendation--Say Cellini [a Judy Baar Topinka campaign donor or fund raiser] … made a recommendation to Judy Baar Topinka [for a hire] and somebody wrote down that Cellini was the referrer. Is that illegal? That they kept track of that?

Joe Birkett: Let me tell you what’s illegal. Here’s what’s illegal. And, the Governor knows this…he takes credit for the Ethics Act, the Ethics Reform Act. What’s illegal is to hand out favors, to give jobs in exchange for political contributions. That’s what’s illegal.

Jeff Berkowitz: But, a favors list doesn’t show that. Does it?

Joe Birkett: Well, a favors list is a starting point for an investigation. How did somebody get hired to hand out tens of thousands of dollars in contracts for DCFS [Department of Children and Family Services], who has absolutely no qualifications to do so? How did somebody get hired into an important position for the Department of Transportation-- he is driving a state vehicle and he is a convicted drunk driver. How does that happen? That happens because people aren’t looking at applications. They are not looking at qualifications. They are hiring people based on political favors. And, that is illegal. To grant a job, to give out a job in exchange for a political contribution is a crime.

Jeff Berkowitz: Wouldn’t the U. S. Attorney [Patrick Fitzgerald] have subpoenaed this [favors list]. If this were relevant to the U. S. Attorney’s investigation [of the Blagojevich administration], wouldn’t he have subpoenaed this favors list? Does he need you to tell them [the U. S. Attorney’s office] what to do?

Joe Birkett: I don’t speak for the U. S. Attorney. I am calling on Rod Blagojevich today to release that list. It’s a favors list. If he has done it right, like he says—if he is doing what he said he would do, which is to clean up state government, that we would not have business as usual in Springfield—this is his usual ad nauseam.
Joe Birkett: Here is what is illegitimate- to accept a campaign contribution from somebody and then you get a job referral from a family member. That’s illegitimate, that’s wrong. You can’t do it. And, the Governor knows it. He should know it. He’s the one who touts and brags about the Ethics Act that he takes credit for.

Jeff Berkowitz: No matter how qualified that person is? They are blocked [from getting a job with the Administration that received the campaign contribution]?

Joe Birkett: No. Keep in mind [that] qualifications are absolutely, critically important and that’s what a person should be hired on. But, when you hire a person simply because it is done as a favor for a contribution or some other political favor, that’s what wrong, that’s what’s illegal. [See here and and the video here for more about the Birkett presser and for blowback from the Blago flakcatcher. And, go here for Birkett Press Secretary Dan Curry’s Reverse Spin or maybe just good old fashioned spin, depending on where you sit.]

Jeff Berkowitz: But, the “favors list,” doesn’t establish that because the person could be very qualified.

Joe Birkett: Again, the favors list is indicative of what we have seen time and time again in this administration, which is people turning up in jobs that they should not have had because they are not qualified for those jobs and the answer to the question-- why did they get those jobs—I suspect it’s in that favors list. Anyway, thanks all for coming. Thank you very much.
Joe Birkett, Republican Candidate for Lt. Gov. and DuPage County State's Attorney, Press Conference, Topinka-Birkett Campaign Chicago HQ Office, May 17, 2006.
Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search can be reached at