Have you seen the Crain’s endorsements yet? Wow. Commenters kept urging me to read it, but I was a bit busy and simply forgot.
The Crain’s editorial is by far the strongest denunciation of a sitting Illinois governor that I have ever seen. It’s even harsher than the magazine’s round of primary endorsements.
Her opponent, Gov. Rod Blagojevich, has presided over an administration of unparalleled venality, and for that reason alone we cannot endorse him.
A man who ran as a self-styled reformer four years ago has taken the stateâ€™s pay-to-play system to new heights. His campaign promise to â€œend business as usualâ€ in Springfield has been kept only in the sense that payola politics now far exceeds what had been usual before he took office.
Gov. Blagojevich allowed his top political fund-raisers to dole out state jobs and steer state contracts as rewards for campaign contributions. In so doing, he made it clear that state government is for sale.
Now a trail of indictments is working its way toward the governorâ€™s office, forcing him into the last refuge of the political scoundrel: claiming ignorance of what goes on in his own administration.
In sum, Gov. Blagojevich has disgraced himself and the state. Nothing he may have accomplished in office can erase that taint or entitle him to another term. Voters must send a strong message that Illinois will no longer tolerate the corruption his regime has fostered.
The Democratic incumbent portrays himself as the champion of the little guy. But the working people of Illinois bear the ultimate cost of pay-to-play politics. When the state is for sale, those without cash are excluded.
Largely because Rod Blagojevich is governor of Illinois, 500,000 more people have health coverage, and all children without health insurance can get state coverage.
Largely because of Mr. Blagojevich, thousands of Illinoisans on the bottom of the economic heap got a raise as the state increased the minimum wage to $6.50 from $5.15 an hour.
Largely because of Mr. Blagojevich, free pre-school classes are being opened for all 4-year-olds.
When Mr. Blagojevich saw that elderly Illinoisans were struggling to pay for their medications, he set up a program to import them from Canada, defying drug companies and Bush administration bureaucrats. The program never really caught on â€” only 3,700 state residents use it â€” but it was a worthy effort.
Rod Blagojevich, the son of an immigrant steel worker, is a man of compassion. His policies have done much for ordinary folk who never could give a dime to his campaign fund. Those policies have earned him our endorsement for re-election.
*** UPDATE x2 *** As I mentioned in comments, Crain’s endorsed Blagojevich in 2002. Here’s part of it.
For decades, the Republican Party has had a stranglehold on the governor’s office. And though the GOP enjoyed its share of triumphs during that time, it’s become apparent in recent years that this concentration of power also has a dark side, as evidenced by displays of blatant cronyism, woeful ethics and some very costly wheeling and dealing. The next governor will have to clean up this unholy political mess, while at the same time finding a tangible way to ease the fiscal crisis Illinois will assuredly suffer next year, when it posts a $2-billion-plus budget deficit.
As important, the next governor must stretch himself to be more than a good bureaucratic cost-cutter or aggressive naysayer. He must become highly attuned to the state’s commercial needs and be proactive about fostering a healthy business environment, especially during these tough economic times.
This is a huge job. It requires someone with vision, energy and the etermination to shake up the Springfield status quo. Of the two major gubernatorial candidates, Democrat Rod Blagojevich offers the greatest appetite for change and the political will that’s essential to produce this crucial transformation. For those important reasons, Mr. Blagojevich is Crain’s choice for Illinois governor.
During the campaign, Mr. Blagojevich has repeatedly vowed to clean up the excesses of state government. He promises to halt initiatives that provide individual state lawmakers with funds to back pork barrel projects, and will do a top-to-bottom overhaul of state finances, cutting costs and eliminating waste.
The Tribune obviously did not buy into the governor’s spin.
Political insider Stuart Levine pleaded guilty Friday to scheming to squeeze millions of dollars from firms seeking state business, and authorities alleged in the clearest detail yet that he had the help of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s top campaign supporters.
The new allegations in the plea agreement of Levine, a longtime Republican fundraiser reappointed to state boards by the Democratic governor, only increased the questions about corruption swirling around the race for governor with little more than a week until the Nov. 7 election.
In the 58-page plea agreement, federal authorities spell out allegations that Blagojevich’s two top fundraisers schemed almost from the beginning of the governor’s administration to use their newfound influence for corrupt purposes.
A businessman who funneled thousands of dollars into Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s campaign pleaded guilty Friday to using his seats on two state boards in a bid to collect millions of dollars in kickbacks.
But Stuart Levine’s plea agreement with federal prosecutors contained no direct charge of wrongdoing on the part of the governor who is waging a re-election campaign while coping with a federal corruption investigation.
All the same, the 58-page plea agreement was crammed with details of corruption in state government and guaranteed to fuel campaign fireworks.
Four days after Gov. Rod Blagojevich predicted federal prosecutors would never indict his kitchen cabinet adviser Christopher Kelly, a guilty plea put Kelly in the midst of a scheme thatâ€™s already led to the indictment of the governorâ€™s top fundraiser.
The Kelly revelations unfolded Friday as Stuart Levine, a Republican campaign donor who also contributed to Blagojevich, pleaded guilty to mail fraud and money laundering, and admitted a whole host of other criminal conduct.
* ABC7 reported “the plea agreement contained no new blockbuster allegations and none involving the governor directly.” Quotes from both sides.
A former appointee of Gov. Rod Blagojevich pleaded guilty Friday to mail fraud and money laundering in a kickbacks-for-clout case that also accuses one of the governor’s top fundraisers of corruption.
But the highly anticipated guilty plea of Highland Park businessman Stuart Levine came as something of an anti-climax in Illinois’ political world.
Levine’s plea in federal guilty added little to allegations contained in the indictment of Blagojevich adviser Antoin “Tony” Rezko earlier this month. And nothing in Levine’s 58-page plea document accuses the governor himself of wrongdoing, prompting Blagojevich spokeswoman Sheila Nix to call the document “extremely good news.”
* And the Sun-Times went a different direction altogether.
Robert K. Kjellander, a nationally powerful Republican with strong ties to the White House, emerged Friday as a key figure in an ongoing probe of corruption in Illinois.
Kjellander is identified as “Individual K” in a guilty plea by Stuart Levine, a political insider who describes an underworld of behind-the-scenes deal makers who wielded clout to bilk millions of dollars through two state boards.
Levine said he used his connections to steer a $150 million state pension deal to a firm represented by Kjellander, earning Kjellander a lucrative finder’s fee. In return, Kjellander allegedly agreed not to bill Levine for lobbying work.
The plea deal does not accuse Kjellander of any wrongdoing, but the mention of him indicates the feds are interested in his actions.
Have at it.
[Comments are now closed on this thread. Go here for more.]
Blagojevich’s 57 percent negative rating is high enough that it would likely be politically fatal for him â€” except that Topinka’s favorability rating is even worse, in part because of Illinois’ growing anger with her party on the state and national levels.
“Any other election year, Blagojevich loses this in a blowout,” said Research 2000 pollster Del Ali. “I think the only thing saving his butt is the disgust for the Republicans.”
Only in Illinois could a governor and his confederates claim that a guilty plea somehow exonerates him, even though the plea completely reinforces the notion that his administration was rife with corruption.
[Comments are now closed. Go here for an even fresher thread.]
No bombshells against the governor are expected in todayâ€™s plea. However, Blagojevich might show up as an unnamed official who wasnâ€™t necessarily tied to a criminal act, sources said. […]
Sources say much of the plea will revolve around the allegations previously revealed in Rezkoâ€™s indictment. It could also discuss a controversial deal tied to the sale of a Gold Coast property and former Chicago Ald. Edward R. Vrdolyak. The Sun-Times previously reported the feds are investigating Vrdolyakâ€™s ties to that deal, and that Levine had provided to the feds potentially incriminating information on Vrdolyak.
Essentially a rehash of the Cari plea?
* Check here for the press release. It’s not there yet, but will likely be posted on that page as soon as it’s distributed, or shortly thereafter.
* Yes, I’m still alive. It shouldn’t be much longer now.
*** UPDATE *** AP: Millionaire campaign contributor Stuart Levine pleads guilty to two counts of mail fraud and money laundering.
*** UPDATE 2 *** Doesn’t appear to be much new in here yet, according to people who have read it. No names. $1.5 million to campaign fund mentioned (as with the Rezko indictment).
*** UPDATE 3 *** The Tribune’s story is now up, but it appears to have been written before the hearing.
*** UPDATE 4 *** From a reporter friend who has read the plea: “I can’t see anything new here…” But, Levine was originally “facing life and now he’s looking at 67 months.” In other words, he appears to be cooperating in a major way.
*** UPDATE 5 *** Download the plea right here. [pdf file]
*** UPDATE 6 *** “With respect to Count One, beginning no later than in and about the spring of 2003 and continuing through at least in or about July 2004, in the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, and elsewhere, Defendant, Antoin â€œTonyâ€ Rezko (â€œRezkoâ€), Joseph Cari, Steven Loren, Jacob Kiferbaum, Individual A, and others known and unknown to the Grand Jury, devised and intended to devise, and participated in, a scheme and artifice to defraud the beneficiaries of the Teachers’ Retirement System of the State of Illinois”
*** UPDATE 7 *** If Individual A is Bill Cellini and Individual B is Chris Kelly (as they allegedly were in the Rezko indictment), then this next part shows Cellini either had some significant pull within the Blagojevich administration or some good sources:
In about August 2003, Defendant was re-appointed to the Planning Board. Prior to that point, Defendant discussed his possible re-appointment with Individual A and, separately, with Individual B. Individual A said heâ€™d get back to Defendant about
his request and later called Defendant and said that it would happen. A short time later, Defendant was at a meeting in Rezkoâ€™s office with Individual B and Individual B said that the board seat Defendant wanted had been taken care of. Defendant understood from these conversations that he would be re-appointed to the Planning Board.
About the time Defendant was re-appointed, Rezko and Defendant discussed Defendantâ€™s appointment and Rezko said that he had suggested that Defendant be made the vice-chairman of the Planning Board and that Rezko expected to influence a certain number of votes on the Planning Board. In February 2004, the Planning Board elected Defendant as vice-chairman.
*** UPDATE 8 *** Reading these things can be maddening sometimes, but this is interesting. A “local public official.”
In or about the spring of 2003, Individual A indicated to Defendant that Rezko had complained to Individual A that a certain local public official, who Defendant knew had a relationship with and raised money for a certain public official, had been pushing Rezko and Individual B for money, which Defendant understood to mean that the local public official wanted to make money from the State of Illinois because of his assistance to the certain public official. Defendant offered to have Individual C share his finderâ€™s fee with the local public official so that Defendant could gain favor with Rezko, and Individual A later indicated that Rezko wanted Individual C to split his finderâ€™s fee with the local public official. Defendant then told Individual C that Individual C would have to split his finderâ€™s fee from Investment Firm 1 with a local public official.
*** UPDATE 9 *** As before:
In or about April 2004, Rezko and Defendant agreed to use their influence and Defendant’s position at TRS to prevent Investment Firm 7 from getting its $220 million allocation unless Individual J agreed either to pay an approximately $2 million fee to a consultant chosen by Rezko and Defendant, or to arrange for approximately $1.5 million in political contributions to be made to a certain public official.
*** UPDATE 10 ***
Shortly before the Planning Board meeting on April 21, 2004, Defendant had several telephone conversations with another Planning Board member about Mercy and its application for a CON. That Planning Board member said he had his â€œmarching ordersâ€ from Rezko and that Rezko wanted to help on Mercyâ€™s application.
*** UPDATE 11 *** Was this in the Rezko indictment? It seems new to me and could be quite significant. As reported before, Individual B is alleged to be Chris Kelly ….[After checking the Rezko indictment, it does appear to be new info]:
In or about the Spring of 2004, Rezko, Individual B, and Defendant agreed to establish or obtain a company that they or their nominees would own and control. Rezko, Individual B, and Defendant further agreed that they would use their influence and Defendantâ€™s position at TRS to ensure that TRS would make hundreds of millions of dollars of real estate investments with their company. Defendant, Rezko and Individual B expected to share the profits from the company. Defendant intentionally concealed from and failed to disclose to the TRS Board material facts relating to his plan to establish a real estate asset management company, including his arrangements with Rezko and Individual B.
Asked if he’ll stand by Kelly in the event of an indictment, Blagojevich said he wouldn’t answer, because “I don’t believe that will ever happen.”
*** UPDATE 13*** WARNING: I don’t want to see any idle speculation in comments about who the “local official” might be. Go somewhere else if you can’t contain yourself. Let the reporters do their jobs. Be patient. And, please, don’t call me with this stuff either. I’m kinda busy at the moment. One last thing: A legislator is almost definitely not a “local official.”
*** UPDATE 14 *** Statement from the governor’s campaign office:
Statement is attributable to Sheila Nix, Blagojevich campaign spokesperson:
After nearly one year of the Topinka campaign attacking the Governor and distorting the facts, todayâ€™s plea agreement makes clear that Governor Blagojevich had absolutely no knowledge of any of the wrongdoing perpetrated by Stuart Levine, a long-time supporter and contributor to both Judy Baar Topinka and Joe Birkett.
*** UPDATE 15 *** From Tony Peraica’s campaign:
“Two weeks and two days ago, Stroger Organization major donor Antoin ‘Tony’ Rezko was indicted by the U.S. Attorney on 24 counts stemming from a corrupt scheme with Stuart Levine to extort kickbacks from firms that wanted state business. Today, Stuart Levine gave up his fight, and pled guilty to the charges lodged against him. Now that Tony Rezko’s partner in this corrupt scheme has acknowledged his own guilt, it’s going to be hard for Mr. Rezko to defend himself. […]
“For too long, the residents of Chicago and Cook County have had to rely on U.S. Attorneys to fight corruption. That’s embarrassing. The good news is that every couple of years, voters have a chance at the polls to select for themselves elected leaders who can wage the war on corruption on their behalf. Tuesday November 7 offers the voters one such choice - they can choose me, someone committed to reform, or they can choose Todd Stroger, a man who willfully overlooks the corruption in his own inner circle.”
Judy Baar Topinka’s campaign estimates that the average voter has seen Gov. Blagojevich’s TV ads at least 200 times. So, I don’t have to tell you that the vast majority of those ads have been negative.
I don’t even watch much network TV and yet I still find myself asking, “What’s she thinking?” about 10 times a day. It doesn’t even have to be about politics. A dog will walk across the street in front of my car. “What’s she thinking?” I’ll mutter as I slam on my brakes.
A waiter forgets to bring the check. “What’s she thinking?”
The Sun-Times endorses Rod Blagojevich. OK, I’ll just let that one drop.
I was mildly surprised that they let that last line through. It shows they’re willing to take a joke.
By the way, I apologize for what comes next in the column, but it was the best way to illustrate my point. You’ve been warned.
Meanwhile, Sun-Times editorial page editor Steve Huntley’s column runs next to mine today and is entitled, “. . . and here’s what we can do to get back to the issues.” Huntley had to write the Blagojevich endorsement for the Sun-Times. But he appears to try to make up for it today.
Let’s face it, voters: We must come across to the politicians as being more inclined to flip-flopping than John Kerry. We say we hate negative campaigning, loathe it, can’t stomach it. But every election we let those nasty TV ads influence us, too often decisively, in crucial elections. In other words, we were against attack ads before we listened to them and succumbed to their message.
A case in point is the gubernatorial race. As soon as he had the March primary behind him, Gov. Blagojevich, looking vulnerable to a strong challenger, had his campaign go on the airways with ads attacking his opponent, state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka. […]
Far from the political hack and handmaiden to the Ryan corruption the ads depict, the lively and personable Topinka is a mainstream politician who has proved herself an exemplary public servant in the Legislature, where she served 14 years, and as Illinois treasurer for the last 12 years. She has been a wise steward of state finances and expanded the responsibilities of the treasurer’s office with programs to help families save for college, educate women and children on financial matters and aid qualified home buyers to get access to low-interest mortgages.
Blagojevich calls her “George Ryan’s treasurer” because Topinka served four years when the disgraced Ryan was governor. She was an independently elected constitutional officer and bears no responsibility for the corruption that will land Ryan in prison next year. Scandal hasn’t tainted her office.
* Our buddy Tim Nieukirk is profiled by the Daily Herald’s Animal Farm today.
Itâ€™s not often a Washington politician sets his sights on Springfield. Usually itâ€™s the other way around.
But when itâ€™s the downstate Washington just outside Peoria and youâ€™re 25, working second shift and living with your parents, a campaign for change carries a more literal and personal interpretation.
Meet Tim Nieukirk, official write-in candidate for governor backed by a series of ads on Youtube.com that are laugh-out-loud funny.
* Tribune: In a surprise move, city Treasurer Judy Rice announced her resignation on Thursday, and Mayor Richard Daley tapped the private sector, naming Stephanie Neely to replace her.
* Sun-Times quoting Congressman Jackson on Neely’s choice: “Where has democracy gone? The mayor has now appointed the city clerk, the city treasurer and 29 of the 50 aldermen. Depending on the outcome of the county election in two weeks, he might soon also appoint new aldermen in the 7th, 8th and 18th wards. … Why not wait until the election and let the people decide through an open democratic process?”
I’ve noted before that the governor seems to have a lot of fundraising ties to the Indian-American community. What I didn’t know was that his family was also profiting from it. The Tribune has the story.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s wife earned more than $113,000 in real estate commissions this year through a woman who holds a longstanding, no-bid state contract and whose banker husband has business pending before state regulators.
The four real estate deals involving the Chicago couple Anita and Amrish Mahajan, the last of which closed Sept. 28, account for the only commissions Patricia Blagojevich has earned this year.
The governor’s office scoffed at questions about whether it is a conflict of interest for the governor’s spouse to make money from a couple whose businesses depend on decisions made by the Blagojevich administration.
“It’s unfair and completely ridiculous to suggest she should be expected to keep track of every client she does business with to see if they have contracts with the state,” said Abby Ottenhoff, the governor’s chief spokeswoman. She said the questions were rooted in outdated attitudes toward working women.
“Every client?” If those are the only commissions she’s earned this year she doesn’t have many clients.
Amrish Mahajan–who has donated $10,000 to Blagojevich’s political campaigns–is president of a Harvey bank with requests pending before state banking regulators to acquire two out-of-state banks. His bank has lent millions of dollars to indicted Blagojevich fundraiser Antoin “Tony” Rezko.
Mrs. Blagojevich has also done a lot of deals with Rezko in the past.
Go read the whole thing, but I love this part of the story.
“I didn’t hire her,” Mahajan said in a brief interview from the balcony of her Chicago townhouse. “I didn’t even know who she was until closing. That’s when I heard she was the governor’s wife. I try not to get involved in politics.”
Mahajan then referred the Tribune to her attorney, James Regas.
“Why shouldn’t she hire Patricia Blagojevich?” Regas said. “They’ve been friends for a long time. He [the governor] is very close to the Indian community here.”
I imagine Mrs. Mahajan’s denial is what spurred the story on. So far, this isn’t much to go on. But that denial hints that more may be there.
I’m told that WGN TV reported last night that more indictments will be handed down today. For now, here’s a look ahead at the Levine stuff. This was posted last night at the Tribune’s site:
Political insider Stuart Levine is expected to plead guilty in federal court Friday to kickback schemes stemming from his activities on two state regulatory boards.
The guilty plea by Levine, reappointed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich to the two state posts, could reverberate on the campaign trail a little more than a week before the election.
Levine is accused of scheming to extort kickbacks from investment firms seeking to do business with the state while he was on the Illinois Teachers’ Retirement System board. He also plotted to share in a $1 million kickback in his duties with the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board, prosecutors charge. Levine is expected to plead guilty to both schemes, his lawyer has said.
Sources said Levine’s plea agreement would closely track the 65-page indictment against himself and Antoin “Tony” Rezko, a Blagojevich confidant and fundraiser.
I assume the Sun-Times will have more today. I’ll update as appropriate.
*** UPDATE *** People, try not to get your expectations up too high, OK? I’m tired of deleting speculation about who could be indicted.
It is Stu Levine’s guilty plea, after all. There could be some Republicans in big trouble, too. Just sit back and wait. We’ll know this afternoon.
We’re starting to approach Nixonian territory here. The attorney general demands that the governor stop breaking the law and grant requests for copies of federal subpoenas, the governor flatly refuses.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s administration is violating state public-information law by refusing to release subpoenas it received in a federal corruption probe, the state attorney general said Thursday.
Blagojevich’s office said it would continue to withhold the subpoenas.
“Without legal support, the office of the governor and the agencies under his control cannot withhold federal grand jury subpoenas in their possession and must release these documents pursuant to a FOIA request,” Assistant Atty. Gen. Terry Mutchler wrote in a letter to Blagojevich’s legal counsel, William Quinlan.
Blagojevich spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said the governor’s office does not intend to change its policy. “We appreciate the attorney general office’s advisory input,” she said. […]
The attorney general’s office disagreed with the administration’s rationale for keeping subpoenas secret.
“There’s no magical meaning to a subpoena under the Freedom of Information Act,” said Mutchler, who is public access counselor for the attorney general. “The FOIA applies the same to a subpoena as it does to a request for any other public record in the state of Illinois.”
Actually, if you read the letter from Madigan, she doesn’t just disagree with the governor’s “rationale,” she claims much of his rationale has no basis in reality and the rest of it is not backed up with any facts.
That sums up the Illinois Department of Correction’s arrogant attitude toward the hardworking people who are forced to pay taxes to keep our state’s prison system running.
That unfortunate conclusion has become obvious the past few months as our reporters have tried to pry enough information out of the Illinois DOC to piece together the terrible happenings at the Dixon Correctional Center May 12. That’s the day an inmate with multiple rape convictions - who had free run of at least part of the prison - allegedly raped a female prison worker at knifepoint.
We steadfastly believe it is a reasonable expectation that the DOC be willing to explain why the inmate, John Spires, was allowed to roam freely with limited supervision. The citizens of Illinois, and especially those who work at the Dixon prison, deserve to understand the DOC’s decision-making process when granting a prisoner such privileges. The DOC, however, disagrees.
We also believe it is reasonable that the DOC release information detailing the staffing levels at the prison when the incident occurred. Again, the DOC doesn’t think so.
In late August we made a formal request under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act to DOC Director Roger Walker Jr. asking for records that would shed light on these important questions. Walker and the DOC thumbed their nose at the public’s legal and moral right to this information by flatly denying the request a few weeks later.