Of all the frauds Rod Blagojevich perpetrated on the people of Illinois, the worst may have been this: he promised to become the first governor to run the Chicago Marathon, and he never did. The Illinois running community provided the margin of victory for Blagojevich in the 2002 Democratic primary, and he let them down.
With the marathon a week from Sunday, Blagojevich has one last chance to make good on his promise. Although it’s too late to register for the race, organizers should grant him a number and let him run. It would be an act of mercy. A year from now, Blagojevich will be wearing a prison number, and if he runs 26.2 miles in any direction, he’ll be chased by bloodhounds.
Blagojevich would also be good for the race. He can bring more publicity to the Chicago Marathon now than he could have as governor. Unlike in his pre-arrest days, he’s famous. Photos of his run would be transmitted around the world. Celebrity marathoners usually draw more attention than the actual winners. In 2007, the best-known finishers of the New York City Marathon were Lance Armstrong and Katie Holmes. Only running fanatics could name the winning Kenyan, Martin Lel. Blagojevich would steal the spotlight from American record-holder Ryan Hall, who’s receiving a large fee for running this year. Blagojevich’s presence in the race will give spectators a reason to stick around after the leaders pass. He will just have to promise not to cover his hair with a ball cap.
(Blagojevich claims to have run the Chicago Marathon in 1984, finishing in 2 hours and 55 minutes, although the race has no record of him that year. He is on the books as having run the 1989 Marine Corps Marathon in 3:03 and the 1997 Chicago Marathon in 3:22.)
Gov. Pat Quinn ran cross-country in high school, but appears to have given up the sport, so Blago is our last chance for a marathon governor.
We did have a marathoning mayor, though. Michael Bilandic, an avid runner, not only gave organizers permission to hold the first race in 1977, he ran in it, finishing in four hours, a very respectable time for a 54-year-old man. That first race was known as the Mayor Daley Marathon, in honor of Bilandic’s predecessor, the first mayor to support the idea of a big race. Bilandic also began construction of today’s 18-mile-long lakefront path by converting five miles of horse trails to running trails.
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