It was bad enough when former Gov. George Ryan steered the contract for marketing the state's organ donation program to the friend of a campaign contributor. But now Gov. Rod Blagojevich has (allegedly) scored a two-fer when it comes to corrupting the sacred: he messed with the Cubs and kids.
Federal authorities allege that Blagojevich tried to get Tribune Co. to fire a couple editorial writers in exchange for his help with the sale of Wrigley Field. It's instructive to go back in time. Sam Zell had just taken control of the Tribune and was considering selling Wrigley Field separately from the team. A dumb idea, yes, but one fanned by the governor, apparently ravenous for opportunities to leverage favors.
At the time, the governor had, in the words of the Tribune, "failed repeatedly to reach agreement on a broad-based, multibillion-dollar public works program to build schools, roads, bridges and other major public works projects."
The governor had his hands full, but when he saw his chance, he poured his energies into a cockamamie scheme for the state Illinois Sports Facility Authority to buy and and renovate Wrigley Field with 30-year tax-exempt bonds that would be paid off by mainly team lease payments and selling naming rights to the ballpark. His explanation at the time was that, as a Cubs fan and Illinois governor, he wanted to ensure that Wrigley Field would be viable for the next 30 years.
Blagojevich even managed to rope former Gov. Jim Thompson -- no stranger to locating pressure points in the political system -- into his act. Thompson, as the chairman of the ISFA, became an ardent public spokesman for the plan and the chief inside player trying to make it happen.
As Sam Zell recalled in a CNBC interview on Wednesday, the plan didn't get far. Last June, the plan officially died. Little did we know then what Blagojevich's angle was. In an editorial titled "Lights out on a bad idea," the Sun-Times wrote that "Blagojevich had his heart in the right place."
Now it turns out he has no heart.
Consider another (alleged) venture of his: federal authorities say that Blagojevich sought a $50,000 campaign contribution in exchange for $8 million in state funding to Children's Memorial Hospital. Yes, that's right: the governor allegedly held up a children's hospital with a fountain pen.
Hospital officials noted in a statement that they had "provided testimony in Springfield and otherwise worked diligently to obtain funding from the State of Illinois that would adequately reimburse pediatric sub-specialists for the costs of providing much needed services to children covered by Medicaid."
Blagojevich's greatest legacy - and perhaps the only bright spot on his record - is his state All-Kids health insurance program. It might even make you think he has his heart in the right place. But now we know better than that.