Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Can Rod Muster 12 More Votes?

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Rod Blagojevich liked to say when he was governor that he was "getting things done for people."

    This week, after attorneys for both sides finish their closing arguments Monday, 12 of those people will decide whether Blagojevich deserves another chance, or if they feel he shamelessly betrayed them in his six years as Governor.

    The man who was so focused on winning the hearts of voters, now watches  a dozen votes determine his freedom. To be certain, the case most citizens heard from court was similar to the case they were promised back in December of 2008, when U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald described a "political crime spree" which he said would have made "Lincoln roll over in his grave."

    There was the pressure to oust the Tribune editorial board because they had written unkind things, the effort to squeeze a campaign donation out of Children's Hospital, the gambit involving Illinois road builders and an expansion of the Tollway.

    There was a north side school which wanted a grant, where we heard the governor wanting a fundraiser in return; pressure on a racetrack owner to pony up for the governor's signature on a bill which funneled casino money to state tracks.

    And of course, about a zillion scenarios relating to trade offs for Barack Obama's Senate seat: from the hope of a cabinet post, to Emil Jones' entire political war chest, to a $6 million donation from supporters of Jesse Jackson Jr.

    Defense lawyers will argue that Blagojevich may have been a blowhard to some, a fool to many, and just a jerk to others, but that none of those is a jailable offense. They will note that he never collected any of the money described above.

    Prosecutors will counter that he didn't have to, and that they stopped him before he made his biggest score of all. For the prosecutors, the closing arguments, which begin today, are designed as a reminder to jurors. "Here's what you heard, here are the charges, here's how each of those acts fits into the indictment you must now consider."

    If everyone takes their allotted time, the arguments will last 7 hours. Defense lawyer Sam Adam Jr. has asked for 2 and a half hours, which judge James Zagel said sounded short to him. "He is," the judge reminded everyone in the courtroom, "a big believer in the force of repetition."

    The elephant in the room is the elephant which never spoke. Rod Blagojevich had told everyone from Barbara Walters, to Bill O'Reilly to cab drivers on the street and probably his wife's Avon lady, that he would testify and would explain everything. Problem is he didn't.

    The same Rod Blagojevich who sounded so smug and dismissive on the tapes, so disdainful and critical of his fellow politicians, rested his case without calling a single witness, including himself. He had been adamant that he would testify, but during a brief recess after his announcement that he wouldn't, he appeared cheerful, signing autographs in the courtroom.

    Thus, jurors were left with only one Blagojevich voice ringing in their heads: the one who repeatedly asked "what does it pay?", who ripped into ungrateful Illinoisans after he got their "(expletive) babies a chance at health care," and who seemed intrigued at a Jesse Jackson Jr. candidacy which could have meant a cool $6 million for his campaign fund.

    In the end, the case may come down to one singular fact: will the jurors consider what Blagojevich did, just another example of the way politics is done, not only in Illinois, but probably everywhere else?

    The defense has been told not to argue that strategy, but they don't have to. At a time when angry voters shout-down small town council meetings in the name of "tea party" reform, voter disgust may be a double edged sword. Will it swing in the former governor's favor, with his jury shrugging and granting him a "business as usual" pass? Or will it swing toward his well coiffed head, with the angry voters on his jury deciding to make an example of the 40th governor of Illinois? That jury will start debating the answer to those questions, Tuesday morning.