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Thursday, June 20

Gapers Block

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Patrick Fitzgerald is a party pooper, no doubt about it. Operation Safe Road, which began eight years before his term as U.S. Attorney for Northern Illinois, has netted scores of convictions under his watch, including former Governor George Ryan. Not only that, but it is Fitzgerald's office that is cracking down on patronage in Chicago via the Hired Truck Scandal investigations into political hiring and the Mayor's office, including the recent indictment of his so-called "patronage chief," Robert Sorich.

Man, bummer. The feds, we've learned, are going to go to bat with the argument that the Mayor and the Democratic Party were able to, on the stealth, rebuild the Machine. The recent indictment of City Clerk James Laski and his subsequent resignation augurs ill for the Mayor in a likely contested election next February.

As if that wasn't obnoxious enough, Fitzgerald announced in December an investigation into practices in Governor Blagojevich's administration, namely the handling of contracts for the Illinois State Tollway Authority.

But what should really be scaring Blagojevich as he faces a tough reelection bid against Judy Baar Topinka is that an earlier plea agreement, by a fella named Joe Cari, in a separate investigation, pointed to Blagojevich as the "Public Official A," who was complicit in some way in a fundraising scheme.

Basically, the plea agreement issued last fall described a scheme wherein firms bidding for state business had to pay handpicked consultants — or "consultants" — who would then kick a portion of what they got directly to the Blagojevich campaign. Pretty nasty accusation, definitely illegal, and definitely the kind of thing Fitzgerald loves to sink his teeth into.

If Blagojevich is indeed Public Official A — which is a little like saying "If Al Jolson is Indeed White" — then he will be indicted. This is not to say he's guilty, mind you, only that he would be indicted. Fitzgerald has shown little patience for the good old fashioned Chicago "ignorance is insulation" line of defense that was so favored of the first Mayor Daley and any number of electeds before and after.

I like the "ignorance is insulation" defense. It's quite elegant, really. Basically, you bring a few loyalists in on a scheme, but make sure you hear just few enough details that you're not quite sure how it works; you set your henchmen free to do the dirty work and never ask a question, and never hear a report. Then, when the feds come snooping, you can look their agent in the face and say, "I really have no idea." And you're kind of telling the truth! And it is going to take a lot longer to get indicted! This gives you time to shred documents/incinerate hard drives/garrote witnesses.

As was pointed out on Keith Olbermann's "Countdown" (via The So-Called Austin Mayor) a few weeks ago, whenever Patrick Fitzgerald labels somebody "Public Official A," that somebody is facing down the hoosegow. Yikes. Good if you're a Democrat who really hates Karl Rove, bad if you're a Democrat who really likes having an intact party here in Illinois. Barring the appointment of Patti Blagojevich as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, Blagojevich faces certain legal trouble should he win reelection, and the state Democratic Party will certainly face a devastating one-two punch should the apparatus built by Mayor Daley — call it what you will — be disassembled.

The one silver lining is that Blagojevich almost certainly will not be indicted before November. You may recall that Operation Safe Road actually began in 1993, more than a decade before George Ryan would be indicted, and three years separated the indictments of George Ryan's inspector general Dean Bauer and Ryan himself. Now, I'll be humming a different tune if Fitzgerald's investigators come across any scraps of paper that say, "Dear Chris Kelly and Tony Rezko, My Two Top Fundraisers: Please devise scheme to force contractors to kick money back to my campaign. Love, Rod Blagojevich. PS Do you like me? __Yes __No." But despite what roughly 40 percent of the state will tell you, the Hunka Hunka Burnin' Gov. is not that stupid.

Also, building a corruption and conspiracy case to bring to trial is hardly a beanbag toss — it takes brass balls, by which I mean "meticulous preparation."

Fitzgerald, although a party pooper, is no hypocrite — his office has been maddeningly disciplined about controlling leaks to the press, so even the process of building a case against the Governor, if that is indeed what he intends, will likely not have too great an effect on the campaign, outside of innuendo and the "conventional wisdom" echo chamber of which pundits are so fond.

The Democratic Party hack in me wants to cheer the prospect of holding onto the Governors office just a little while longer. The sliver of good government nerd in me that I haven't yet been able to snuff out — he wants all the bums, of whatever party, thrown out.

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Mister C / May 10, 2006 12:13 PM

Very nice piece of work, Richard.

One thing I've been wondering about lately: Fitzgerald and posse have been sniffing around Illinois/Chicago government for several years now but not much has ever happened regarding the Cook County government apparatus despite its long-rumored status as a patronage/corruption sinkhole.

What gives with that? Is Cook County government just cleaner than everyone thinks or have Patrick and pals just been too busy to turn over that rock? Or is the County crew so tight-lipped and loyal that Fitz can't get any leverage? Or perhaps a ton of indictments are in the works?

Please illuminate, Good Sir.

John Powers / May 10, 2006 2:30 PM

Why would:

"The one silver lining is that Blagojevich almost certainly will not be indicted before November. "

If Blago is a crook, shouldn't we want him to be indicted? What is the advantage of having criminals as our leaders? Shouldn't he be put out as soon Fitzgerald has enough information to indict him?

We get the government we deserve. If our media cheers for criminals as governors, then who do the taxpayers turn to for relief?


Peter Zelchenko / May 11, 2006 6:33 PM

You're missing the point the author made. It takes time to develop a tight case, and Fizgerald seems to have a policy of not moving until the case is ready, regardless of the political scenario outside. It's smart to be patient.

Fats / May 14, 2006 6:46 PM

Rich, from what I understand the case in chicago has reached its zenith with the four men now standing trial...While light will be shed on the city's hiring practices the 93 page santiage proffer document seemed to present a less than stellar case for deposing the city's Mayor.


About the Author(s)

Richard F. Carnahan is a true South Side Sox fan who's played a bit part in Chicago politics more than once over the years. Contact him at

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