The Rod Blagojevich who was beamed into a Federal Courtroom in Chicago Tuesday was not the raven-haired, mop-topped, wisecracking everyman who Illinois voters and in fact all of America thought they knew all too well.
This Blagojevich, appearing on a halting, blurry video feed from a Federal prison in Englewood, Colorado, had snow-white hair, olive-green prison garb, and a very un-Blago demeanor, soft-spoken and contrite.
“I realize it was my words and my actions that led me here---I made many mistakes,” Blagojevich told Judge James Zagel. “I wish there was a way to turn the clock back.”
It was Blagojevich baring his soul, a seemingly broken man who bore little resemblance to the overconfident gladhander who first charmed, then repelled voters in his home state.
“I’m different in so many ways,” he said. “These have been hard years.”
The hearing was a re-sentencing, where Blagojevich and his family hoped he might get a reduction of his 14 year sentence on a variety of fraud and bribery charges. The event was ordered by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals last year, when they threw out five of the 18 counts on which the former governor had been convicted.
The Blagojevich children made personal appeals. Thirteen year old Annie told Zagel about a father she described as “amazing”.
“I almost don’t want to grow up, because I want to wait for him to come home,” she said. “Life is just getting harder and harder, and I need him more than ever.”
Her 20 year old sister Amy, spoke of emotionally draining visits to the Englewood prison.
“It’s embarrassing to cry in front of the inmates,” she said. “But especially humiliating to cry in front of the guards.”
Defense attorney Leonard Goodman told Zagel that the case and the defendant were very different from what he had seen before. And that Blagojevich had the testimonials of over a hundred inmates, describing his good works behind prison walls.
“This case is no longer about selling office for personal gain,” he said. “This was wrong, it was improper, it shouldn’t have happened.” But in the end, he said, it was not a case of a politician trying to fill his pockets.
“He’s evolved into a man who stands in stark contrast to the man who stood before you,” Goodman said.
But prosecutors warned the judge not to buy it.
“The defendant was convicted of a crime he was guilty of,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Debra Bonamici. “The people of Illinois deserve much better, and the defendant deserves this sentence.”
“All prisoners have good families that are made to suffer the consequences,” he said. “His good works do not erase the harm he did to the people of Illinois.”
And just like that, as daughter Amy sobbed in the front row of the courtroom just a few feet from the flat screen TV where her white-haired father appeared, Zagel declared that he was keeping the former governor’s 14 year sentence intact.
“We find his sentence unusually cruel and heartless and unfair,” former First Lady Patti Blagojevich declared after court. “I’m dumbfounded and flabbergasted at the inability for the judge to see that things are different than they were four and a half years ago. And his unwillingness to bestow even the smallest amount of leniency or mercy or kindness.”
Former Blagojevich defense attorney Sam Adam, Jr. angrily branded the ruling a “farce”.
“This man gets 14 years for not getting one dime of political corruption money,” he said. “Is that really worth it? Is that what we are really supposed to expect from our society?”
Defense attorney Lauren Kaeseberg spoke of the reduced counts, which resulted in no reduction of the former governor’s sentence.
“You look at judges and judges are supposed to be merciful,” she said. “And I didn’t see mercy from the judge—so I’m very disappointed.”
Technically Blagojevich has further appeal options available. But those involve similar arguments to the very courts which have already ruled. Patti Blagojevich said the former governor, once the over-the-top cheerleader for what were often his most unlikely political causes, probably had the most confidence in his eventual exoneration.
“My husband has incredible strength and faith that I quite frankly an losing in our legal system,” she said. “This strength will help us all get through this.”