Public Official 1A

First Lady in a world of hurt

By Steve Rhodes
|  Wednesday, Dec 10, 2008  |  Updated 9:53 AM CDT
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Public Official 1A

First Lady Patti Blagojevich was reportedly heard on federal recording talking with the governor about influencing the Chicago Cubs sale.

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Illinois First Lady Patti Blagojevich grew up in the home of a powerful, old-school Chicago alderman, so it’s no surprise that she's well-versed in hardball politics. But excerpts from the wiretaps gathered by federal investigators in the case against her husband reveal the private Patti for the first time - when she isn’t leading the charge against food allergy awareness or announcing the latest selection in her Children’s Reading Club - and it isn't pretty.

It turns out she’s just like Rod. Call her Public Official 1A.

“An unflattering portrait depicting Illinois First Lady Patricia Blagojevich as a modern-day Lady Macbeth who plotted against her husband's perceived enemies and backed his corrupt schemes emerged in court documents connected to the governor's arrest Tuesday,” the Tribune reports today.

“Her alleged ambitions and brashness are outlined in a 76-page federal criminal complaint: She helped her husband hatch a plan to sell President-elect Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat. She angled to trade her husband's power for lucrative spots on corporate boards. And she unleashed an obscenity-filled tirade suggesting Tribune Co. ownership should ‘just fire’ Chicago Tribune editorial writers if the company wanted the state to help it unload Wrigley Field to ease its crushing debt.”

Patti Blagojevich hasn’t been charged in the case, but that doesn't mean she's in the clear. Regardless of what happens to her, though, she won't remembered for her carefully cultivated First Lady good works after she's gone, but this passage from the federal complaint against her husband:

"During the call, ROD BLAGOJEVICH's wife can be heard in the background telling ROD BLAGOJEVICH to tell Deputy Governor A 'to hold up that [bleeping] Cubs [bleep] . . . [bleep] them.' ROD BLAGOJEVICH asked Deputy Governor A what he thinks of his wife's idea. Deputy Governor A stated that there is a part of what ROD BLAGOJEVICH's wife said that he 'agree(s) with.'

"Deputy Governor A told ROD BLAGOJEVICH that Tribune Owner will say that he does not have anything to do with the editorials, 'but I would tell him, look, if you want to get your Cubs thing done get rid of this Tribune.'

"Later, ROD BLAGOJEVICH's wife got on the phone and, during the continuing discussion of the critical Tribune editorials, stated that Tribune Owner can 'just fire' the writers because Tribune Owner owns the Tribune. ROD BLAGOJEVICH's wife stated that if Tribune Owner's papers were hurting his business, Tribune Owner would do something about the editorial board. ROD BLAGOJEVICH then got back on the phone. ROD BLAGOJEVICH told Deputy Governor A to put together the articles in the Tribune that are on the topic of removing ROD BLAGOJEVICH from office and they will then have someone, like JOHN HARRIS, go to Tribune Owner and say, 'We've got some decisions to make now.' ROD BLAGOJEVICH said that 'someone should say, 'get rid of those people.'"

(Now we know why Blagojevich so oddly and aggressively jumped into the Wrigley Field fray instead of tending to gridlock in Springfield; he was (allegedly) trying to exploit for his own ends.)

Of course, we already knew that Patti was – or tries to be – a player.

In October, the Tribune recounted how federal investigators were combing over her real estate dealings, “probing whether clients hired her to win favor from her husband's administration.”

News about those dealings has dripped and drabbed so much over the last couple of years that many reporters and politicos predicted she'd be indicted before the governor.

At the heart of that probe is her eight-year relationship with her most lucrative client, political fixer extraordinaire Tony Rezko, who is now awaiting sentencing on his own corruption conviction.

Now Patti is in an even bigger world of hurt.

According to the federal complaint filed on Tuesday, Patti was involved in conversations with her husband about trading an appointment to Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat in exchange for placing her in paid positions on corporate boards. Another option discussed was for the governor to appoint himself to the Senate seat with Patti becoming a lobbyist.

It would seem to fit a pattern – Patti got her current job as a fundraiser for the Chicago Christian Industrial League through one of her husband’s political friends.

“Before that,” the Tribune reported in October, “she had a brief job as an investment banker after touting her ability to land state business, according to the head of North Star Investment Management.

"’I'm not going to lie to you, it would have been great for us to get one of the state pension funds,’ said Peter Contos, a North Star executive listed as the contact on her federal license application.”

Patti’s political ruthlessness runs in the family. Her father, Dick Mell, was chiefly responsible for the rise of Rod Blagojevich, though he was aided and abetted by the rest of the state’s power structure – including Barack Obama, who, along with Rahm Emanuel, plotted strategy for Blagojevich’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign.

Mell also clouted his other daughter – Patti’s sister – into the state legislature.

Gall runs in the family. Barely a minute into winning her seat – but before actually serving a day – Deborah Mell floated the idea of trading up by jumping into the congressional race to replace Emanuel.

On Tuesday, Deb Mell was seen entering the Blagojevich home, presumably to comfort her sister.

Maybe they took time out to share a book. On December 1, Patti announced her latest book club selection was How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

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