Illinois Governor Plagued by Corruption Charges
JACKI LYDEN, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden.
In Illinois, the former governor is on trial for corruption. But the current administration is also feeling heat from a federal grand jury investigation into the state's hiring practices. Prosecutors have been issuing subpoenas and requesting personnel records from state agencies and the office of Governor Rod Blagojevich. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports from Chicago.
CHERYL CORLEY reporting:
This past week was supposed to be a glowing moment for Governor Blagojevich, a week to celebrate legislative approval of a child health insurance plan he promoted. Instead the focus has been on the probe of the state's hiring practices, with newspapers reporting that one official in the administration wore a hidden recording device for the US attorney's office. Governor Blagojevich did not appear in public last week, but when he met with reporters late last month, he said the investigation did not trouble him.
Governor ROD BLAGOJEVICH (Illinois): I, frankly, view this as an opportunity to be able to show that our systems work.
CORLEY: When Blagojevich won the governor's seat in November 2002, he pledged there would be no more business as usual. The first Democrat to be elected in more than a quarter of a century, Blagojevich came into office after the scandal-plagued term of Republican George Ryan. The state's former governor is known worldwide for placing a moratorium on the state's death penalty and later clearing Illinois' death row. But the federal government also accused Ryan of committing mail fraud while he served as Illinois' secretary of State. He's currently on trial, and Governor Blagojevich says that's why the investigation of his administration is no surprise.
Gov. BLAGOJEVICH: I knew in the wake of Governor Ryan that we were in the situation where there would probably be a lot of scrutiny. Even questions that may or may not even have any kind of credibility would be examined. That's a good thing in the long run.
CORLEY: Some of the documents federal agents have requested go back into former Governor Ryan's term, and they center so far on the personnel records of four departments: the governor's office, the state's Department of Transportation, its child welfare agency and the Department of Corrections. Roosevelt University political scientist Paul Green says Blagojevich is in a tough spot because he focused so much on reforming state government during his run for office.
Mr. PAUL GREEN (Roosevelt University): Simply because it was so easy to do. You had an incumbent governor, who couldn't run for re-election because of scandal, now going on trial; he was going to do it a new way. But I think the turning point would be the family feud between him and his father-in-law. I think that set up a whole series of not only investigations, but questions.
CORLEY: The governor's father-in-law is Chicago Alderman Richard Mell, who encouraged his son-in-law to enter politics and then helped him win several positions, including the governor's seat. The mentoring relationship erupted into a full-fledged family feud after Blagojevich closed a waste dump site operated by one of Mell's distant relatives. Last winter the alderman accused the Blagojevich administration of trading jobs for campaign contributions. Mell recanted those charges later during an emotional news conference.
Alderman RICHARD MELL (Chicago): A lot of you know that I'm--sort of wear my heart on my sleeve sometimes and sort of say things that possibly in hindsight I shouldn't have said. But this has to end. It has to end not for me or not for Blagojevich, but it has to end for my wife; it has to end for the rest of my family.
CORLEY: It may have been the end of a family feud, but it was just the beginning of a number of investigations into the hiring practices of the Blagojevich administration, including the now expanding federal probe. Meantime, the governor says no one has been accused of any wrongdoing. He says officials are simply gathering information. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.
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