Blagojevich was already insanely jealous that a goo-goo state senator from Hyde Park had leaped over him to the presidency. So he decided to try to leverage his power to appoint Obama’s successor to set himself up as a national player, too.
Rep. Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s soon-to-be chief of staff, told Blagojevich fundraiser John Wyma to tell Blagojevich chief of staff John Harris that the White House would be “thankful and appreciative” if the governor would appoint Valerie Jarrett. (Like mob bosses, politicians use a lot of “buffers” to make deals.)
Those three words drove Blagojevich nuts.
“Grateful and appreciative, huh?” Blagojevich sneered to Harris. “I got a 501 (c) 4. Can he get Warren Buffett and some of his friends to help us with that? In the middle of the night delivering pizza, how about that side job? I need a place to land. What about the reality of that?”
The tape of that conversation was played from a pair of speakers atop six-foot chrome pillars, while the man who spoke the words sat nearby, in a tailored blue pinstripe suit.
Blagojevich wanted to become head of an issue advocacy group that worked to bring health insurance to children. It would be his way of “playing a role in the national game.” He wanted Obama’s wealthy friends to endow it with $10 or $15 million.
The governor was also interested in becoming head of the labor organization Change to Win, although he seemed disappointed to hear that he would only earn $125,000 to fight for the working man. Democratic strategist Fred Yang said that it was the best job to keep Blagojevich financially secure and politically viable at the same time.
“There are a lot of things that preclude you from being a high-level elected official,” he told Blagojevich, who’d been dreaming of a cabinet job. “Working with Rezko does make it hard for any big Illinois politician.”
Blagojevich threw out scads of names for the Senate seat: everyone from State Sen. Rickey Hendon to Deputy Governor Louanner Peters to an idealized “African-American Tammy Duckworth.” He was never interested in appointing Jesse Jackson Jr. Junior had promised to endorse Blagojevich for governor in 2002, then welshed when Roland Burris entered the race.
“He’s a bad guy,” Blagojevich told Yang. “He’s really not the guy I thought he was.”
Still, Blagojevich wanted to plant a rumor in Michael Sneed’s Sun-Times column that he was considering Jackson.
“The governor understood that Jesse Jr. was not a preferred choice of the Obama administration, and they might be inclined to help the governor in other things if they thought he was considering Jesse Jackson Jr.,” Harris testified.