One day after a round of television interviews pleading his case, embattled Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich faced the Illinois State Senate in a last minute, desperate attempt to save his job. It did not work. The Illinois Senate removed Governor Blagojevich in a unanimous vote, 59-0, that also barred him from future public office in the state. At approximately 5:27 p.m. after the State Senate had disposed of Blagojevich, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke administered the oath of office to Lieutenant Governor Patrick Quinn, formally making him the state’s new governor.
It was a stunning and meteoric crash for the two term Democratic governor and the culmination of a weeks’ long drama that exposed the seemy side of state politics in the Land of Lincoln. The episode captured the nation’s fascination as it indirectly involved the newly elected President of the United States, impugned the reputation of a rising star in state politics, and resuscitated the career of a seemingly forgotten history making Black politician; all against the backdrop of the inauguration of the first Black President. Hollywood could not have written a more entertaining and intriguing script.
Blagojevich’s downfall began with his early morning arrest on December 9 by federal agents. The criminal charge by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald alleged that Blagojevich engaged in a brazen “play to pay scheme” in which he, on surveillance tape, offered to sale favors to the highest bidder. The most stunning charge was that Blagojevich sought to sale the United States Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama, the newly elected President. Though there had been long speculation that Governor Blagojevich was playing fast with the rules, the breadth of the criminal complaint was stunning. More so because Blagojevich, the state’s first Democratic governor in two decades, entered office pledging to clean up government after his predecessor, Republican George Ryan, was convicted and sent off to federal prison.
After his election in 2003 things began to fall apart quickly for Blagojevich as his administration became entangled in a number of state and federal investigations. One of the shadowy figures implicated was real estate developer Antoin “Tony” Rezko whose name surfaced repeatedly in the early stages of the Obama campaign as questions were raised about the extent of the relationship between the two men. Rezko conspired with a longtime GOP operative to split kickbacks from a state pension deal and help the individual get reappointed to the state pension board. Along the way 13 people have been indicted or convicted as it became apparent that kickbacks were the cost of doing business in the state.
Problems began to mount for Blagojevich right when he was gearing up for his re-election bid in 2006. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald announced that his office had spent more than a year investigating fraud in state hiring and one month before Blagojevich won a second term Rezko was indicted on corruption charges.
Following Blagojevich’s arrest on December 9, things took on a bizarre, if not surreal, tone. First, it was revealed that one of the charges in the criminal complaint centered on the governor’s alleged attempt to sell the Senate seat just vacated by Barack Obama. Just days later one of the figures referenced in the complaint as "Senate Candidate 5" was revealed to be Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., son of the civil rights leader, a rising star in the party and someone who was considered a front runner to fill Obama’s term in the Senate. According to the complaint, individuals who represented to Blagojevich that they were emissaries of Jackson allegedly sought payment in exchange for the governor naming the Congressman as the choice for the vacated seat. The mere fact that he was referenced in the complaint brought a swift and angry denial from Jackson of any role in attempting to seek the seat.
At the height of calls for him to step down, and coming underneath heavy media scrutiny, Blagojevich stunned the political world by appointing Roland Burris, the first Black elected to state Comptroller and Attorney General in Illinois, to fill Mr. Obama’s seat. Caught completely off-guard by the Burris appointment, Democrats on Capitol were left with no choice but to support the appointment of Roland Burris to the Senate.
Now weeks after that episode Rod Blagojevich finds himself impeached and removed from office, following the footsteps of his predecessor. His cavalier attitude and over-confident demeanor betrayed him in recent days, as there was little support for his continued tenure as governor. He will not await the indictment and proceedings related to the criminal charge brought against him by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.