After Turbulent Year, Blagojevich Faces Trial
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. No, this isn't the "Tale of Two Cities," it's the tale of one state.
In 2009, Illinois beamed with pride at Barack Obama's inauguration; then in the same month, that pride turned to embarrassment when the state's governor, Rod Blagojevich, was impeached and removed from office.
NPR's David Schaper takes a look back at the year of Blagojevich in Illinois.
DAVID SCHAPER: If it was a Dickensian year in Illinois, then most of the state's residents probably agree that when it comes to their former governor, Rod Blagojevich, 2009 was probably not the age of wisdom and certainly was the age of foolishness.
(Soundbite of television program "Late Show with David Letterman")
Mr. DAVID LETTERMAN: Why exactly are you here? Honest to God, what...?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ROD BLAGOJEVICH: Well, you know, I've been wanting to be on your show in the worst way for the longest time.
Mr. LETTERMAN: Well, you're on in the worst way, believe me.
Mr. BLAGOJEVICH: I sure am...
SCHAPER: David Letterman summed up what many in Illinois and the rest of the country were likely thinking, as Rod Blagojevich hit the talk-show circuit just a month after being arrested on corruption charges.
Blagojevich is accused of trying to sell a U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder and engaging in what U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald called pay-to-play politics on steroids. Yet, this is what Blagojevich said of himself when asked on the "Today Show" his first thoughts when he was arrested.
Mr. BLAGOJEVICH: I had a whole bunch of thoughts, of course, my children and my wife, and then I thought about Mandela, Dr. King, Gandhi and tried to put some perspective in all of this.
SCHAPER: Not only did he compare himself to some of the great leaders of the world but to movie heroes, including Jimmy Stewart's character in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." Blagojevich and his hair became punchlines on late night TV, "Saturday Night Live," and of course at Chicago's own Second City.
(Soundbite of rock opera, "Rod Blagojevich Superstar")
Second City Cast Members: (Singing) Rod Blagojevich superstar, are you as nuts as we think you are? A day of reckoning you will need...
SCHAPER: The Second City staged an entire rock opera based on Blagojevich and sold out virtually every performance.
Mr. ANDY SHAW (Executive Director, The Better Government Association): Illinois became a national laughingstock, an embarrassment.
SCHAPER: Andy Shaw is a longtime Chicago TV political reporter who now heads up the corruption-fighting nonprofit The Better Government Association.
Mr. SHAW: And Blagojevich fanned the flames with his cross-country circus act, going from one talk show to another and letting them muss with his hair.
SCHAPER: But Blagojevich didn't stop.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. BLAGOJEVICH: Hi, this is Rod Blagojevich. I'm filling in for Don Wade and Roma.
SCHAPER: Last spring, Blagojevich sat in for the morning hosts on Chicago talk radio station WLS, where he now has a Sunday afternoon show of his own. He later asked a federal judge to allow him to travel to Costa Rica to appear on a reality TV show. Many Illinoisans had other ideas.
Unidentified Woman: He should be lost on the "Lost" show, and then just lose him.
SCHAPER: The judge wouldn't allow it, so his wife Patty appeared on the reality show. Blagojevich wrote a book called "The Governor," and he hit the talk-show circuit again. He did other appearances, including one where he impersonated Elvis, and we're not done with him yet.
In 2010, he's scheduled to appear on Donald Trump's reality show, "The Celebrity Apprentice," and then, of course, there's his corruption trial set to begin in June.
Mr. SHAW: Well, this will be the biggest political circus we've ever seen in Chicago...
SCHAPER: Again, Andy Shaw.
Mr. SHAW: ...because he's a showman. And he's the sort that will gab on the way into trial and the way out of trial and provide a running commentary.
SCHAPER: Shaw says if there's any good to come from the Blagojevich scandal, it's that the state of Illinois now has, for the first time, limits on campaign contributions, a stronger Freedom of Information Act and other political reforms.
David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.
(Soundbite of music)
NORRIS: Up next, the state of the glass ceiling after Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin and the race of 2008. Author Anne Kornblut, that's when we continue with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
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