Richard Mell


Earlier this month at the Chicago Tribune Printer’s Row Lit Fest (nee Book Fair), Chicago Tribune columnist and blogger Eric Zorn interviewed “Chicago Tonight” correspondent Elizabeth Brackett about her new book, Pay to Play — How Rod Blagojevich Turned Political Corruption Into a National Sideshow. Although I was at the book fair that day, a slow start from a friend’s house in Rockford and an unexpected delay due to construction along the CTA Blue Line prevented me from arriving in time to watch the interview.

When I first heard about Brackett’s book, I admittedly thought it was rushed and decided I probably wouldn’t read it unless I received a review copy — and I don’t mean that so much as a knock on the timing of Brackett’s book as the fact that as a political junkie (and one well-versed in all things Blago) I figured I already knew most of what is in her book. However, I was still curious to hear what she had to say about our former governor, and if I got the chance to talk to her afterward I could tell her about my blog and all that I’ve written about Blagojevich, and maybe I would buy a copy of the book and have her autograph it … Well, it wasn’t meant to be. But thanks to C-SPAN2’s Book TV, I got to hear Zorn’s interview later. And as it turned out, I did learn some new-to-me Blagojevich facts from Brackett.

(Incidentally, the interview will air again today at 5:30 p.m. CST, so you can watch it for yourself on Book TV, or you can listen to audio of the interview by clicking here. You also can read Zorn’s thoughts about the book at his blog, Change of Subject.)

I took notes as I watched the interview so I could share some of what Brackett said about Blagojevich:

On Rod’s wife, Patti, meeting her future husband for the first time at a fundraiser for her father, Chicago Ald. Richard Mell: “Patti said afterwards, she told her father, ‘You know, I think if I go out with him, I’m going to have the time of my life.’ She was right about that one.”

On Rod’s vision of himself: “He always envisioned himself as a scrappy fighter. I mean, that’s how he saw himself. Perhaps it was coming up as the son of immigrants … So he saw himself as somebody who had to, you know, run against the status quo. I think that was part of basically who he was.”

On why she finds Rod “puzzling”: “He’s such a puzzling character because he just seems to be such a dichotomy. At one point there’s this man who is gifted politically, can give a terrific speech, works a room like nobody’s business, but on the other hand, he absolutely did not build a single strong political relationship in Illinois. He was at war with the legislature from the very moment, even before, he was elected. And he liked that.”

Brackett said she talked to several psychiatrists about Rod, and they said the former governor probably suffers from narcissistic personality disorder, in which case he is “someone who has an overall need for attention, has to be in the middle of things, much of which is to cover up a lack of self-esteem.”

Brackett also said she is looking forward to reading Blagojevich’s autobiography, which is expected to hit bookshelves later this year.

Brackett was less interested in watching Patti Blagojevich on “I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!”

“I watched the first night and that was about enough for me,” Brackett said. “Once the tarantulas went down, I wasn’t too sure that a lot more news was going to be made. But it’s interesting that neither our former first lady or her husband seem able to shy away from cameras. It is critical to both of them, and you have to say one thing about them, they’re doing a good job on their media tour.”

(Click here to read my daily updates about Patti’s jungle adventure.)

Second City announced Friday it extended the run of its hit musical spoof “Rod Blagojevich Superstar” through Sunday, June 14, at Navy Pier’s Chicago Shakespeare Theater “due to tremendous demand and irresistible new source material provided daily by the former governor.”

I saw “Rod Blagojevich Superstar” last weekend and loved it. Writer Ed Furman and music lyricist T.J. Shanoff worked in numerous references from throughout the Blagogate saga, including the allegations that Blagojevich tried to sell a U.S. Senate seat and get members of the Chicago Tribune editorial board fired, Blagojevich’s media blitz (including his infamous comparison of himself to Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King and Gandhi), Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s description of Blagojevich as “cuckoo,” and Blagojevich’s desire to be dropped into the heart of the Costa Rican jungle for a reality TV show. There also is a wonderful reference to his hairbrush, dubbed “the football” by the ex-governor, who breaks down during the show and proclaims, “Must brush hair for power!”

The breakdown leads into a gloriously profane song sung by Lori McClain as Patti Blagojevich, who in real life is heard swearing in the background of wiretapped phone conversations between her husband and his co-conspirators. Pottymouth Patti gets a laugh every time she swears, and sometimes she curses in shockingly funny ways. She also is portrayed as the brains behind Rod’s charmingly naive “scrapper,” who gets seduced into the Chicago political machine by his wife and her father, Chicago Alderman Richard Mell.

Of course, no Blagojevich spoof would be complete without somebody playing Roland Burris, who Blagojevich appointed to fill President Barack Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat after being accused of trying to sell it to the highest bidder. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan also are characters in the play, which, as you might expect, pretty much wrote itself as it unfolded in real life.

And it continues to. While “Rod Blagojevich Superstar” lasts only 55 minutes (one of my few complaints about the play), it is followed by a brief intermission and an improv session that fills out the rest of your 90-minute date with the Second City troupe. Beginning May 7, the improv segment will include a game called “Rod Island,” which Second City describes as “portraying a never-before-seen bootleg copy of the pilot for Rod Blagojevich’s new reality television show.” Too bad I missed that.

Here’s the Bread Line bottom line: If you find humor in the ongoing Blagojevich scandal — even if it’s a sad kind of gallows humor — you’ll enjoy “Rod Blagojevich Superstar.” Click here for more details.