Friday, January 02, 2009

Blagojevich appoints Burris to replace Obama: how did we get here?

The Blagojevich-Burris show was great political theater, and with much educational value, too.

Political smarts trumps book smarts

First, it demonstrated again book smarts only counts for so much in politics. Shrewdness, marrying well and brazenness counts for much more. Governor Blagojevich brags about having been, at best, a “C,” student in constitutional law at Pepperdine Law School in Malibu. First, you have to admire how Blago, presumably with little money and smarts, finagled himself a spot in law school in Malibu, one of the ten best beaches in the world.

How to get really rich and a lot of power

Second, there is the old line that to get really rich or to get a lot of power, you must be born with it, marry it or steal it. Since Blago missed out on the first opportunity, he set out to focus on the next two.

So, boys and girls, you could acquire wealth and political power by earning it. But, better yet, there is the Blago way. By marrying well into the family of Ald. Dick Mell, Chicago’s powerful ward boss, known affectionately in the Hispanic Community as El Gringo, Rod Blagojevich was able to rise from a nothing Assistant State’s Attorney and small time PI lawyer to a State Rep. and then to one of Mayor Daley’s six congressmen, winning the 5th CD seat-- held for so many years by powerful Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski-- after “Danny Boy,” capped off his proud career of advising six or more Presidents by landing in the pokey for public corruption and being replaced for two years by a Republican. Boys and girls, please notice the prominent role played by public corruption in this little morality play. After all, we are in Illinois.

Blago becomes Governor with the help of Burris

Third, continuing what some would call his delusional path to the Presidency, Blago ran for the Dem Primary nomination for Governor in Illinois in 2002, winning with about 36 % to Paul Vallas’ (Big time Chicago Public School CEO reformer) 33% and Roland Burris’ 31%. And, the educational tale here is how race can help more than one person in a three-person race.

Blagojevich’s big time support came from labor and large chunks of the Chicago Daley machine, also synonymous with public corruption. With those big money sources, Hot Rod could even “go with big time TV ads downstate,” that overcame a difficult name to pronounce or remember. Vallas’ performance at the Chicago Public Schools made him popular with minorities in Chicago and with suburbanites who admired the toughness and standards he brought to the Chicago schools, including ending social promotion.

Burris, although he pulled in significant white votes in 1978 as the first African-American to win statewide office in Illinois when he won the Comptroller’s race, had a base primarily consisting of African-Americans and helped Blagojevich by draining black votes from Vallas. Notice how helpful Burris’ race can be to other pols.

Burris helps Blagojevitch’s 2002 Transition Team

Fourth, for sure, it must be just coincidence that Burris was chosen to be a player on Blago’s 2002 Transition team and then to get fairly significant business thrown his way over the last six years, with only a small amount of money going back to Blago in the form of contributions. See how that works boys and girls. Lots of coincidences in Illinois politics.

Instrumental to Blago’s primary and general election win for Governor was his father in law Chicago Ald. Mell (33rd Ward), who exercised every last bit of machine muscle and contacts—as he envisioned being the state patronage boss.

A tale of two Ryans

Fifth, note, boys and girls, how public corruption can elect you and then destroy you. Rod won the general election for governor in 2002 by tying AG Jim Ryan to the soon to be indicted Gov. George Ryan. At the time of the election, most knew about the sale of driver licenses (when George Ryan was Secretary of State) and other tawdry public corruption practices of Gov. George Ryan and many citizens just assumed [incorrectly] Jim was related to George. Further, Rod is a charming, personable campaigner and Jim Ryan, not so much. Advantage Rod. Somewhat ironically, the public corruption of George Ryan [mimicked so well by Rod Blagojevich] helped knock Jim Ryan down a peg or two, electing Rod to the governorship, even though there was no evidence tying Jim Ryan to the public corruption of George Ryan.

Blagojevitch dumps Mell

Sixth, there is no honor among thieves. Ald. Mell had no sooner helped put his son-in-law in the Governor’s mansion than Rod dumped Mell. Mell tried to collect from Rod by having Rod do a gubernatorial favor for a friend of Mell’s. Rod, realizing he had plenty of favors of his own to sell, saw no percentage in giving one to a family member.

Rod holds his auction

Seventh, fast forward six years to a Blagojevich who had been under siege by U. S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald for multiple public corruption investigations, many rooted in Rod’s apparent desire to get campaign contribution kickbacks for virtually every contract, job, board seat or other benefit bestowed by the State on businessmen, lawyers, bond counsel, road builders, consultants, etc. As Rod saw it, this is something he learned in econ 101. If a pol has something of value to dispense, potential recipients should pay for it. In a sense, Rod thought, auction everything, including Senate appointments, to the highest bidder. Indeed, surmised Rod, isn’t this what Mayor Daley and Speaker Madigan do with judgeships?

First rule of politics: Don’t get caught doing something bad

Eighth, boys and girls, if you are going to do bad things, don’t get caught. So, if you can get away with it, don’t put it in writing. And, if you can get away with it, don’t even say it, just nod. And when you have to say it, treat every conversation as if the person you are speaking to is wearing a wire. Apparently, this is a lesson Rod missed in law school. Must have been on the beach in Malibu that day.

The Illinois Legislature passed a law, HB 101, effective Jan. 1, 2009, that will make it much harder for Statewide office holders to sell government contracts, etc. for campaign contributions. In an effort to gather “contributions,” before the new law went into effect, Rod sought to sell everything, including Obama’s Senate seat, or so the bugs and wiretaps of Rod’s offices and phones seem to suggest. Rod, again, didn’t master those lessons, above, about exercising caution in what you say. And, then, Rod was arrested on December 9, 2008.

On the verge of impeachment for abuse of power and a federal indictment for public corruption, Rod has few cards left to play.

Play the race card when needed: Burris will do

Ninth, when you are down and out, boys and girls, play the race card. You can find it at the bottom of the deck. Although Blago’s general approval rating has plummeted to about 9%, it might be as high as 30 or 40% in the African-American Community. Boys and girls, always play to the strongest segment of your base. They may help you fight impeachment. They may help you win a jury trial.

Playing the race card? It’s a no brainer, Rod’s specialty. Call the most prominent, black pol you know. Well, there is Valerie Jarrett, how about her, asked Rod. Well, no, that won’t work, said his advisers. She wanted the Senate seat, but she apparently rebuffed our labor boss, when we felt her out about getting Secretary of HHS in exchange for Rod. No, the heat is on her, so we need to go to our next black on the list.

How about Cong. Jesse Jackson, Jr., asked Rod. He sure wanted the job. Yes, he did, said Rod’s adviser. But, with brother Jonathan apparently working with those friends of Jesse to raise money for us, and that getting out, the heat is on there, too, so we need to go to our next black on the list.

How about Cong. Danny Davis. He would like the job, suggested Rod. But your lawyer says he turned us down, said an adviser. Okay, so we need to go to our next black on the list.

How about Roland Burris, asked Rod. He has worked well with us in the past. Drained all those African-American votes for Vallas for us in 2002. Was a good sport about joining our transition team in 2002. Likes the state business we have given him. Likes to give us campaign contributions. Hasn’t held office for 14 years, although he has tried four times. Must be a bit hungry for the title of Senator. And, I’ll bet we can get some prominent Blacks to speak out should the U. S. Senate try to block a black man. Yes, Roland is the ticket.

Play the joker- Bobby Rush

Tenth, boys and girls, after playing the race card, find the joker. I got it, says Rod, try Cong. Bobby Rush. What could be better than a former Black panther to speak out for a Black Senator when the U. S. Senate tries to bar him. But, wait, said one of his aides, on the day of your arrest, Cong. Rush said:

I believe that the acts that are alleged to have been committed by the Governor are so heinous that he has forfeited his right to appoint someone to fill the seat of President-Elect Barack Obama. My bottom line is that the Governor should not be the one to make the appointment to this important office.

That’s not a problem, Blagojevich says: Don’t you know Bobby. Tell him he can come down to our presser, sit in the audience and we’ll give him a starring role. He can stand up and say how important it is to have another black man in the Senate, and not block his access to the Senate like those southern Governors who kept black kids out of the public schools in the 50s and 60s. Just because he said I had forfeited my right to appoint? Heck, that was then and this is now, said Rod. Rush will support Burris. Rush is black. Burris is black. This is Chicago. Race over anything, including the joker.

So, you see, boys and girls, this is—how do they put it in the public schools-a teaching moment. Hope you have learned about how to get ahead, how you can earn money in politics, how you can marry well, how it is unwise to talk when you can just nod, how most pols will change their view for ten seconds of fame, how race is usually the best card to play, but most of all, jokers are wild.

That Cong. Bobby Rush, that was a good one—and he kept a straight face, you gotta love Bobby, said Rod. Rush didn’t even support Obama for the Senate in 2004. Rush supported a white guy, Hull, and Hull gave Bobby’s brother a good job. And, now Bobby says how important it is to have a black man in the Senate. Boy, you gotta love Bobby’s hypocrisy, said Rod. And, Roland? He’ll do anything, say anything for an office.

But, most of all, said Blagojevitch: I love the leaders of the Illinois Democratic Party. Without Speaker Madigan and Mayor Daley, I could have never got this far. How about those guys chairing my campaign in 2006? And, then, their decision, with the assist of the National Dems and AG Lisa Madigan, not to schedule a special election to replace Senator Obama—that allowed me one last shot at the race card, to nominate Burris. It is going to be tough, but now I have a shot. And, for that, I have all those Dem leaders to thank.

You see how that works, boys and girls. Straight from the horse’s mouth. And, here, you thought horses couldn’t talk.
Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search can be reached at **************************************************
Recently posted shows on the Public Affairs YouTube page include a recent Bill O'Reilly segment w/Berkowitz on Obama, shows with newly minted State Rep. Mark Walker (D-Arlington Heights), essentially the first Dem to represent his district since the Civil War, on the connection between the mess in Springfield and in Cook County government, Chicago Alderman Manuel (Manny) Flores (D-1st Ward, Wicker Park) on impeachment of Rod, Chicago issues and a possible run to replace 5th CD Cong. Emanuel, Cook County Cmsr. Tony Peraica (R-Riverside) on the mess we call Illinois politics, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell, State Senator Bill Brady (R-Bloomington), State Senator Kirk Dillard (R-Westmont), Cook County Commissioner and possible 5th CD Dem. Primary candidate Mike Quigley (D-Lakeview), State Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie) and Cook County Cmsr. and Obama Media Team Member Forrest Claypool and much more.