As a former Chicagoan, the notion of electing a Chicago politician to national office on an image of reform and general refinement always struck me as comic. The notion that Barack Obama, with the whole world to choose from, decided to become a Chicago politician always struck me as bizarre. It would be like me deciding to move to Serbia and become a politician. And keep in mind that Obama's goal for much of his Chicago career was not some high-faluting national office. He told everybody at Harvard Law School that he was going back to Chicago to get elected Mayor of Chicago, to take the job away from Richie Daley and vindicate Harold Washington's legacy as the first black mayor. (Becoming mayor of Chicago must have seemed to his fellow Harvard Law students as peculiar an ambition as if Obama said he was going back to Chicago to replace Mike Ditka as coach of the Bears.) But Obama wanted to be Mayor of Chicago because that job embodies "power," and power obsesses Obama.
Obama was trying to follow Washington's career path (state legislature, House of Representatives, mayor) when he ran for ex-Black Panther Bobby Rush's House seat in the 2000 Democratic primary. But his rejection by black voters for not being black enough crushed his spirit and plunged him into a depression that he only got out of when he resolved in 2001 to that his future lay not in black districts but with appealing to the Stuff White People Like voting bloc.
From the NYT:
CHICAGO – Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois was arrested by federal authorities on Tuesday morning on corruption charges, including an allegation that he conspired to effectively sell President-elect Barack Obama’s seat in the United States Senate to the highest bidder.There's been one honest politician in recent Chicago history, the Republican Peter Fitzgerald, who was elected U.S. Senator in 1998. (I never met him, but I was friends with his brother, who was the outside lawyer for the marketing research firm where I worked in Chicago.) Peter Fitzgerald chose to bring Patrick Fitzgerald (no relation) from New York to be the federal prosecutor in Chicago, where he went to work putting the last governor, Republican George Ryan, in jail for giving truck drivers licenses to bad drivers in exchange for campaign donations. One of those guys who couldn't pass the driver's test but got a truckdriver's license anyway slammed into a minister's vehicle, killing his six children. I haven't voted for many Democrats, but I voted for Ryan's opponent in 1998. (Patrick Fitzgerald has also won cases against Tony Rezko and Scooter Libby.)
Mr. Blagojevich, a Democrat, called his sole authority to name Mr. Obama’s successor ”golden,” and he sought to parlay it into a job as an ambassador or secretary of health and human services, or a high-paying position at a nonprofit or an organization connected to labor unions, prosecutors said in a 76-page affidavit by the United States Attorney’s office in the Northern District of Illinois.
He also suggested, the affidavit said, that in exchange for the Senate appointment, his wife could be placed on corporate boards where she might earn as much as $150,000 a year, and he tried to gain promises of money for his campaign fund.
If Mr. Blagojevich could not secure a deal to his liking, prosecutors said, he was willing to appoint himself.
”If I don’t get what I want and I’m not satisfied with it, then I’ll just take the Senate seat myself,” the governor said in recorded conversation, prosecutors said.
Federal authorities recorded Mr. Blagojevich speaking with advisers, fundraisers, a spokesman and a deputy governor, using listening devices placed in his office, home telephone, and a conference room at the offices of a friend, the affidavit said. In its detail, it paints a vivid picture of influence peddling and bare-knuckle politics inside the Blagojevich administration, evoking the heyday of Chicago’s political machine.
At an appearance to address climate change, Mr. Obama said he had not had any contact with Mr. Blagojevich (pronounced bluh-GOY-uh-vich) or his office, and did not know about any machinations involving the Senate seat. He said it was a ”sad day” for Illinois, but declined to comment further. ...
At a news conference on Tuesday, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, said that Mr. Blagojevich had gone on a ”political corruption crime spree,” and that his actions had ”taken us to a truly new low.”
The Republican Party of Illinois didn't appreciate Peter Fitzgerald consciously selecting such a pit bull prosecutor, so they didn't back him for a second term, and he retired. Barack Obama was elected to his seat, and made sure not to make Sen. Fitzgerald's mistake of doing a damn thing about the rampant corruption in Illinois.
Sen. Fitzgerald wouldn't play ball, so he's out of office. Sen. Obama played ball, so he's heading to the White House.
And now Obama has brought Chicago insiders like Rahm Emanuel into the White House.
The power behind the throne in the Blagojevich administration was Tony Rezko, who of course has been Barack Obama's good friend for lo these many years. Rezko did lots of favors for Obama. What did Obama do for Rezko in return? Well, one possibility is this, as I wrote in August:
Rezko is going to prison in large part for packing the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board with five of his lackeys so they would approve hospital construction in which he had an interest. That Board used to have 15 members, making it hard for Rezko to corrupt it, but in 2003, a bill passed the Illinois legislature reducing the number of members from 15 to 9. And who was the chairman of the Illinois Senate Health and Human Services committee that recommended that bill? Why, Rezko's $250,000 friend, the Presidential nominee ...