Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Vanity, Thy Name Is Blagojevich

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Vanity, Thy Name Is Blagojevich
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Rade Blagojevich didn’t survive four years in a German POW camp, emigrate to the U.S., learn English and work in a steel mill so his son would have to buy off the rack. Or settle for being governor of Illinois. Rod was better than that.

The U.S. Attorney’s office wants us to believe that Blagojevich was motivated by greed. But he was really driven by a more elemental impulse, one that predates the existence of money: vanity.

Rod loved looking good, and thought it was the key to his success. Hadn’t he scored an alderman’s daughter after showing up at a party and asking, “Which one’s Patty Mell?”

So what if he’d gone to law school at Pepperdine, and hadn’t even studied there? Blagojevich was smoother and better-looking than the A students. He was a political gigolo who owed his career to wooing a well-connected young woman.

Even before Blagojevich was indicted, a disgruntled 33rd Ward ally complained, "he thinks he became governor because he's got a full head of hair and he imitates Elvis and he looks good in a jogging suit." Maybe that’s why he required his state police detail to carry his hairbrush at all times. The cops nicknamed the grooming implement “the football.”

In Blagojevich’s first Washington Post profile, after he and Jesse Jackson rescued three pilots from Yugoslavia, the writer called his hair “a cross between John Travolta and Henry Winkler.”

Hair like that deserves a $400,000 wardrobe.

Blagojevich isn’t the first fop to run Illinois. Jim Edgar meticulously smoothed his hurricane-proof hair after stepping out of a helicopter, and bragged that surgeons had trouble performing an appendectomy on him because his belly was rock hard from working out. One of his opponents, Dawn Clark Netsch, campaigned on the slogan, “Not Just Another Pretty Face.”

“What do looks have to do with anything?” Edgar protested.

Sure, Jim. Now go back to ironing your jeans.

Blagojevich’s clotheshorse lifestyle might have remained a personal quirk had it not been for the rise of Barack Obama, who bought off the rack but, thanks to his lean frame, managed to look more stylish than Blagojevich. Obama made the cover of Men’s Vogue, even though he only owned a week’s worth of suits.

If it hadn’t been for Obama, Blagojevich might have been satisfied with his job as governor. There’s a study that shows people would rather live in a 3,000-square-foot house in a neighborhood of 2,000-square-foot houses than in a 4,000-square-foot house in a neighborhood of 6,000-square-foot house. Once Blagojevich saw that his peers in Illinois politics were headed to Washington, he thought he deserved to go along, too. It’s astonishing to hear Blagojevich whine about being stuck as governor of Illinois, a job any homely, balding politician would consider the pinnacle of his career.

As Mary Schmich wrote in today’s Tribune, Blagojevich was “consumed by appearances, striving to belong to an elite of leading men and titans that the best suits in the world would never let him enter.”

Vanity, thy name is Blagojevich.

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