State Representative-elect Deborah Mell says she doesn't know how she'll vote if a bill to impeach her brother-in-law, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, comes before the General Assembly.
The governor's arrest this week on corruption charges also shone a spotlight on Patti Blagojevich, his wife and a mother of two. The first lady may have been introduced to the public by profanity-laced tirades as outlined by federal prosecutors, but she already was being investigated for her real-estate dealings.
According to the federal complaint filed Tuesda, she was the voice in the background spewing an ugly suggestion to "just fire" some newspaper editors if the Tribune Co. hoped for state assistance to sell Wrigley Field, the storied home of the Chicago Cubs.
"Hold up that (expletive) Cubs (expletive)," she says as her husband is talking on the telephone. "(Expletive) them."
There she was in full support, according to the complaint, of her husband's suggestion that the price of the governor naming a replacement for Obama's Senate seat include a six-figure seat on a corporate board.
The Mells said the scheming, vindictive Patti Blagojevich portrayed by the feds doesn't fit the sister and daughter they know.
"That is not my sister. My sister is a good woman, a good mother, a great friend, my closest friend, that's not my sister, no," Rep. Debra Mell said.
Her brother agreed.
"This is a pressure cooker that she's living in. And right, wrong, indifferent, whether they put themselves there, I don't know. All I know is what I see," Rich Mell said.
Dick Mell, who has been estranged from his daughter since a public feud between himself and the governor, said he spoke with Patti on Wednesday. She told him she was going through a difficult time.
"She said, as rough as it is, what happened two years ago when her mother died was harder," the alderman said.
"I saw that Barbara Walters called her "potty mouth," said Patti Blagojevich's father, former Chicago alderman Dick Mell. "I wonder what Barbara Walters sometimes says in a heated moment. If something, sometimes, comes out of their mouth like that. I wouldn't put a lot of credence into something like that in a moment."
The family said Patti Blagojevich was living in a "pressure cooker" when she made the comments federal prosecutors secretly taped.
When asked if there was a fear that Patti might be indicted in the ongoing federal investigation, Deb Mell said, "I have no idea even what you're talking about, because I haven't heard that."
The governor's wife hasn't been charged with any wrongdoing, and she hasn't spoken publicly since her husband's arrest.
A Family Soured
In Illinois, the allegations against Patti Blagojevich mark the latest chapter in what may be considered a quintessential Chicago story. She is both a businesswoman whose lucrative real estate deals have raised questions about whether her position as first lady helped her make a lot of money and a key player in a family drama between two powerful politicians — her husband and her father.
He was a powerful Chicago alderman who held a fundraiser in the late 1980s. Hoping to drum up business for his practice, Rod Blagojevich — then a young lawyer — attended and met Patti Mell. The two married in 1990.
Two years later, Mell used his political connections to get 200 soldiers to campaign for his son-in-law. Blagojevich ended up beating a powerful incumbent to win the state representative post, setting in motion a career that would take him to Congress and in 2002 to the governor's mansion.
Patti Blagojevich appeared to be a woman who knew her priorities and would not let working at her real estate brokerage firm interfere with raising the couple's two small daughters.
"Lady Patti Blagojevich knows exactly what comes first in her life," read the headline in a glowing 2005 Chicago Tribune profile.
"What I put my focus on mostly is the girls," she told the paper. "Once you put your focus there, the rest falls into place."
But even before that story ran, Patti Blagojevich was in the middle of a public feud between her husband and her father that largely stemmed from the governor's shutting down of a landfill run by a distant relative of her mother.
Mell was incensed, saying his son-in-law was willing to "throw anyone under the bus."
He also told reporters that his daughter had "blinders on" when it came to the governor and that she would "wake up one day" to understand what her husband was really like.
There were whispers that Mell was not allowed to see the family as much as he liked, something Mell seemed to give credence to with a tearful announcement that he wanted to end his battle with Blagojevich.
"I've got a granddaughter who loves to fish, and she hasn't been up to Lake Geneva for two years like she used to come," he said.
Until Tuesday, the most recent news stories about Patti Blagojevich have been those that raised questions about her business dealings.
In 2005, for example, a published report said she received nearly $50,000 from a real estate deal three years earlier involving Antoin "Tony" Rezko. In June, Rezko was convicted of using clout with the Blagojevich administration to help launch a multimillion-dollar kickback scheme.
"It's a whirlwind. I mean, no one gives you a textbook or some kind of, like, manual on how to handle something like this," Deb Mell said.