Jesse Jackson Jr.


Not surprisingly, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has resurfaced in the news in time to try to influence the upcoming Chicago mayoral race.

Attorneys for the impeached governor filed a motion Tuesday seeking supposedly missing evidence in his corruption trial, including records of a phone call between an aide and Rahm Emanuel, then the White House chief of staff (and now the clear frontrunner in the Chicago mayoral race). I use the phrase “supposedly missing” because I’m suspicious that the lawyers didn’t notice the evidence missing during Blagojevich’s first trial and the timing of the egomaniac ex-governor’s request coincidentally (or not so coincidentally) is just two weeks before the Feb. 22 mayoral election.

No matter. It is unlikely Blagojevich can do anything to derail the Rahm train. All the polls show Emanuel leading by a wide margin; an ABC7 poll released today suggests Emanuel has a commanding lead, drawing the support of 54 percent of those surveyed. (His closest competitor, Gery Chico, has the support of a mere 14 percent of those surveyed.)

Still, Emanuel addressed the subject of the “missing” tape Tuesday. Here is what he said about it, courtesy of the Chicago Sun-Times‘ Blago Blog:

He hearkened back to a two-year-old report by then-President-elect Obama’s transition team that concluded there were “about four” conversations between Emanuel and Blagojevich Chief of Staff John Harris, but “nothing inappropriate or any deal-making.”

“It also noted that I was asked at the time by the President’s transition (team) to provide a list of four names for the U.S. Senate: Tammy Duckworth, Jan Schakowsky, Dan Hynes and Congressman Jesse Jackson [Jr.],” Emanuel recalled, noting there was a separate conversation about Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Trial testimony indicated that Blagojevich and his team considered this list a “BS list.”

“I provided that list. Then, there was a question: The governor’s representative said, `What’s in it for us?’ And I responded, `You’ll get thanks and appreciation‚ [but nothing more]. You also know how the [former] governor responded to the word, `appreciation.’ That’s been detailed over two years ago in the report.”

Testimony at Rod Blagojevich’s trial indicated that it was in fact lobbyist John Wyma who passed on that message to the Blagojevich team in early November, 2008 at Emanuel’s request. Wyma at that point had been cooperating with the feds in their probe against the former governor and provided the government with the necessary information to put up wiretaps against Blagojevich.

Meanwhile in other Blagojevich news, the judge presiding over the former governor’s retrial (U.S. District Judge James Zagel) ruled Tuesday that jurors’ names will remain anonymous throughout the trial and will not be made public until eight hours after the verdict is delivered. You can read the ruling here, again courtesy of the Sun-Times‘ Blago Blog.

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Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich pleaded not guilty this morning to 16 felony charges of criminal corruption, including racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud, extortion conspiracy, attempted extortion and making false statements to federal agents. His brother, Robert, also pleaded not guilty to related charges. (Three others charged in the case are set to be arraigned Thursday.)

I haven’t seen pictures of the media scrum outside the courtroom, but by all accounts I’ve read, reporters and photographers swarmed the ex-governor like a plaque of locusts, pushing and shoving each other like baseball fans fighting over a notable home run ball. The media circus scene led to the following Blagojevich quote, as reported by the Chicago Tribune:

One cameraman used an expletive as he was shoved, then apologized to Blagojevich for his language.

“It’s alright, man. I heard it before,” Blagojevich said. “Listen to some of those tapes.” 

Then there is this juicy nugget from the Chicago Sun-Times:

Rod Blagojevich’s lawyer, Sheldon Sorosky, asked for a quick return to court so he can seek expanded travel privileges. Blagojevich, 52, wants to be allowed to go to Costa Rica to film a reality TV show there but needs the judge’s permission.

I’m not surprised that Blagojevich wants to be on a reality TV show, but why is it being filmed in Costa Rica? What exactly will he be doing on the show — fleeing the country to avoid prosecution? Maybe he will hang out with film director Roman Polanski and complain about the U.S. judicial system. Or maybe Blago will get his hair braided and sing Bob Marley songs. (Yes, I know Marley was from Jamaica, not Costa Rica — but the visual still works, doesn’t it, mon?)

In other Blagogate news, the Sun-Times reported Monday that two members of Chicago’s Indian community told Robert Blagojevich (who headed the Friends of Blagojevich campaign fund for his brother) that U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. would raise up to $5 million in campaign cash for the former governor if he was appointed to President Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat. It is unclear whether Jackson played a role in authorizing the alleged offer.

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My wife and I have tickets to see the Second City spoof “Rod Blagojevich Superstar,” which parodies the ongoing Blagogate saga. Make sure to check back here after Saturday to read my take on the play.

If Democrats lose control of the Illinois governor’s mansion and the U.S. Senate seat currently kept warm by Roland Burris, they have no one to blame but themselves.

Last week Gov. Pat Quinn said Burris should resign within two weeks or lawmakers should approve a special election for the seat vacated by President Obama. But on Monday, Quinn reversed his opinion on the matter — for the second time — after meeting with a group of black elected leaders, who pressured the governor to leave Burris alone.

Taking its cue from the governor’s backpedaling, a Democratic-controlled subcommittee of state senators voted 3-2 Thursday against allowing a special election. The legislation, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Matt Murphy, appears dead.

Various Democrats gave excuses why they don’t support a special election. The only reason that makes sense to me is the high cost of such an election, estimated at $62 million at a time when the state can hardly afford to take on such an expense. Yet a special election would finally put to rest the controversy that will continue to dog Burris until he leaves office.

State Sen. Rickey Hendon, a black Democratic legislator from Chicago’s West Side, gave what I consider the worst reason for not supporting a special election: “Why target the only black U.S. senator in the country?”

Burris’s race is not why the senator is being urged to resign. It is the fact that he was appointed to the U.S. Senate by a corrupt governor who has since been impeached and removed from office.

Hendon was the state senator who complained Rod Blagojevich didn’t get a fair trial in the Illinois Senate, so his support of Burris for the weakest of reasons doesn’t surprise me.

For those who say Burris shouldn’t be removed from office solely because of his race, I wish to remind them that while there have been only a few black U.S. senators, Illinois voters elected most of them. Why do they think Illinois voters wouldn’t elect another black U.S. senator? U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., is a strong candidate for the position. Nevertheless, it is our U.S. senator to choose and most voters are going to select that person based on qualifications and issue stances, not race.

Instead, we are stuck with Burris without an opportunity to decide whether we want him to keep serving as our junior U.S. senator, all because top Democrats are too timid to stand up to a vocal group of black leaders who strongarmed them into killing the special election legislation. In this case, the desires of the few outweigh the rights of the many. I hope voters remember that come election time.

With Barack Obama taking over the presidency in January, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich now is considering candidates to replace Obama in the U.S. Senate. There is a lot of speculation about who the embattled governor will choose, ranging from potential gubernatorial rivals (Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.) to political allies (retiring Illinois Senate President Emil Jones). I don’t know who is best suited for the job, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t Jones or Blagojevich, who can name himself Obama’s successor. One interesting name mentioned is Tammy Duckworth, director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs. She is probably capable of handling the job, and Blagojevich might get rare kudos for appointing a handicapped, female war hero to the position. If the governor does give Duckworth the nod, tomorrow is the perfect day to make the announcement. After all, it is Veterans Day.