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Question of the day

Monday, Dec 15, 2008 - Posted by Rich Miller

* The setup

In 1996, John Fritchey, a Democrat who shared a campaign office with Mr. Blagojevich, was told that his stepfather had suffered a serious stroke. He walked over to Mr. Blagojevich, who was making fund-raising calls, and shared the news.

“He proceeded to tell me that he was sorry, and then, in the next breath, he asked me if I could talk to my family about contributing money to his campaign,” recalled Mr. Fritchey, now a state representative and a critic of the governor. “To do that, and in such a nonchalant manner, didn’t strike me as something a normal person would do.”

* The Question: Have you ever had a direct conversation(s) with Gov. Blagojevich? Describe the conversation and your impressions of him in person. This QOTD is only for people who have talked to the guv. Thanks.


  1. - Disgusted - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 9:11 am:

    I have had several. He has never seemed mature enough for the job. He seems emotionally stunted. He says inappropriate things and does not have the necessary facts one would expect of a Gov. But I did not know he was this crazy.

  2. - Amy - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 9:16 am:

    never as governor. but in his previous roles he seemed to be oddly upbeat no matter what the topic, almost faking it, like his lips were moving but what was coming out was taped, not thought. and this applies to talking issues, family trips, or freakin’ Elvis. and the hair never moves.

  3. - HoosierDaddy - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 9:26 am:

    I attended his inauguration. I shook hands with him and said hello. He said hello and thanked me for coming. I told my wife afterward that the whole thing was somewhat surreal. I think the problem was that I looked at him directly in the eyes. He just seemed vacant, like an empty suit. Like he wasn’t even there. Granted, it was a very, very brief meeting, but I’ve met an awful lot of politicians, and only two of them ever gave me the creeps. Blago was one, the other was Bill Webster, the former attorney general of Missouri, when I worked over there. Webster later did time. Webster wouldn’t look anyone in the eye.

  4. - Eubie - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 9:26 am:

    (This is largely from when he was a state rep) It was important to him to come across as a very well-read, educated guy. He enjoyed putting the day’s events in a historical context that would demonstrate a firm grasp of history. “Hey, this reminds of when Napoleon did this”, or “Y’know, when Oliver Cromwell was faced with this situation…”. And he was VERY GOOD at remembering the “thing” he had with you…He could see you months later and say, “Hey - Cromwell”. But you never really felt like there was a connection. Lots of material, but no personal connection. Odd that he fancies himself such a Machiavellian, but flubbed it so fundamentally in so many ways. That’s my experience/impression.

  5. - publius - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 9:36 am:

    we were at a small gathering around a conference table in october before his last election—he was knowledgable about our issues but he constantly talked about the election—was very worried that he would lose—against jbt—and said a couple of times he didn’t know what he would do—i thought it very odd

  6. - No name for this one - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 9:37 am:

    Not directly, but it is relevant. In the 2006 cycle, I ran for State Rep (as a D). I went to a meeting for area county party folks and the gov’s campaign people were there. They were dictatorial and rude (and this is to party people whose assistance they were requesting). Later that year, I was watching the TV news and there was the gov, making a stop in the middle of my district! There were no D candidates on the stage with him. I had not been contacted to join him and I doubt others had either. Throughout my campaign I was always pleased with the willingness of other candidates to share the spotlight and personnel (Dick Durbin is a perfect example of this). The gov and his campaign stood out because they were just the opposite. Even the Republican candidates and office holders were more cordial!

    So, while I never spoke with the gov., I think that said volumes. A campaign reflects the person at the top.

  7. - Silent Majority - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 9:56 am:

    Alothough not a member of his administration, I was invited to sit in on a staff meeting earlier this year to discuss a specific state problem in which I had experience. My impression was that he was dumber than a box of rocks. He didn’t have a handle on things. He was led through the meeting by his staff.

  8. - steve schnorf - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 10:01 am:

    A few since he was elected. I am constantly taken with how likeable he is, especially his self-deprecating since of humor.

  9. - Boscobud - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 10:02 am:

    I haven’t had a conversation with him but I do know with experience that sometimes it is hard to switch gears. For example, I am a stay at home mom who is in mommy mode all day than when dad comes home it is very hard to switch from mommy to sexy wife.

  10. - Leave a light on George - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 10:06 am:

    A little off topic. There was what I thought an intersting point made by in a the Sun-times article. It does confirm what most who met Gov. F-Rod personally. It said Ryan’s crimes involved helping his friends a little too much. The current Gov’s alleged crimes only enrich one person - him.

  11. - chiatty - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 10:09 am:

    I’ve spoken with the governor on a number of occasions in the past year or so. It has been amazing to see that he appeared unaffected by the stress of what we’ve all read in the paper. I put it down to the Clinton-like ability to “compartmentalize” which was bandied about during the Lewinsky scandal. He always seemed confident and cheery when I spoke with him. I will leave it to other brick tossers to say that he is/was delusional, but it sure seemed like he was able to mentally focus on issues other than the many investigations.

  12. - OfficeGirl - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 10:12 am:

    While on a plane out of Chicago my uncle and I met Blagojevich. My uncle spoke with him for about ten minutes and towards the end of their conversation Blagojevich told my uncle that he would appreciate his vote in the next election. My uncle replied that he was a resident of Colorado. Blagojevich responded with “well, I’m sure if you are in Chicago you can still vote.”

  13. - Mgmax - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 10:12 am:

    He was working his neighborhood on Halloween eve. I was impressed that he kept up the energy to schmooze and work the crowd even when most of them were fed up with him already. I don’t think he’s crazy, I think he’s egocentric and pumped-up with his own importance, but if that’s crazy I’d like to see a list of politicians who aren’t.

  14. - Mr. Wizard - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 10:16 am:

    When he was in the IL House, he was very dumb on political issues and even had to be reminded how to vote on issues important to leadership. But, Steve is right, he was very engaging and impressed me with his ‘crowd’ appeal.

  15. - Mongo - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 10:32 am:

    In December 2003, at a fundraiser, I shook his hand and talked to him about how important some legislation was regarding people with disabilities. The motion to override his veto of this particular legislation had been successful, and all he could do in our brief conversation was repeat his mantra “I can’t have the people pay more taxes.” It struck me that he either didn’t understand disability issues or he didn’t care about them. Thank goodness for the testicular virility of the General Assembly!

  16. - Refugee - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 10:53 am:

    I’ve known Rod since he became a state rep in the early nineties. He is incredibly engaging and for the first ten years I knew him thought him to be limited intellectually but generally a good guy.

    Then, I was a supporter of Paul Vallas in the primary in 2002. It was then I discovered his evil twin. He was ruthlessly vindictive even after I raised a considerable amount of money for his general election in 02. And Patti was even worse.
    HE insulated himself with fundraising thugs and everything in state government was decided by how it could benefit him personally. In conversations through the past few years, he was pleasant ebough but it was clear that even if I wanted to help with something, I was totally meaningless. Whether he is delusional or not is left to clinicians but he is totally egocentric, vindictive, and narcissistic.

  17. - Conservative Republican - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 10:56 am:

    As a CR, I obviously don’t have any inside track. But I am attuned to attitudes in Blago’s home community. In 2002, the excitement there over his election as governor was palpable. But by the time Alderman Mell’s public denunciation occurred, the community attitude about Blago chilled considerably. Instead of raves, I heard rather frank disparagement. This coolness was evident in his 06 reelection effort, when the community was clearly less enthusiastic than it was in 02. The general tone was that Blago had ignored his “homies” once he became governor and couldn’t be counted on to be responsive to his neighbors. Ergo Fritchey’s (his successor as state rep) growing adversarial stance towards Blago over time. When you so clearly turn off your home base, something ain’t right.

  18. - wordslinger - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 10:58 am:

    Uh, Boscobud?

  19. - Bookworm - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 11:02 am:

    As a newspaper reporter I happened to meet him in person a couple of times. Both instances were basically photo ops — one spontaneous and one staged — involving kids.

    One instance involved a young boy and his family whose neighborhood urgently needed a grant for a new water system. The boy’s grandmother (who had once been a legislative staffer) hit upon the idea of having the boy’s classmates write “valentines” to the gov and having the boy deliver them in person at the Capitol on Valentine’s Day. They ended up doing it the following day, when Blago was giving his budget address.

    Blago invited them (and me, with notebook and camera in hand) into his second floor office, and listened to them explain the situation. Then he posed for pictures with the boy and his collection of valentines. He said he’d have COS Harris look into what could be done. A week later, they did get their grant.

    I do remember the office being packed wall-to-wall with very well-dressed staffers and other people and a bunch of sandwich and snack trays set out as if some kind of reception were going on.

    The three of us also happened to meet Lt. Gov. Quinn that day. His office was much more quiet, and he took the time to talk to them (and me) at greater length than Blago did. He seemed to me to be more sincerely interested in what they had to say, and a bit more courteous.

    My second Close Encounter With Blago occurred when he visited a local woman’s home to promote the All Kids program. He was only about 20 minutes late, which other reporters present said was pretty good for him. The woman’s 5-year-old daughter had carefully colored a picture which she wanted to present to the governor. He accepted it and said he was going to put it in his office.

    I wonder what those kids and their parents are thinking today. Those kids should be able to cherish the memory of having met the governor of their home state; but will they ever be able to now?

  20. - anon - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 11:04 am:

    yes, regarding the “rules amendment” scenario, to paraphrase, he stated that “JCAR could meet in the middle of the night and undo a law, you would never know what happened…”

  21. - Shelbyville - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 11:13 am:

    My nephew was working, parking cars at the last inaugural. The governor came out to talk to the boys and said “How the f*** are you guys?” I am not lying.

    I met Richard Mell when the governor elect was being shown the governor’s mansion. He told me that Rod is a “Bill Clinton with morals.” All I could do was sort of nod my head.

  22. - Been There - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 11:13 am:

    I have spoken with him muliple times since he started running for gov and being elected. Been in meetings and small fundraising dinners with him also. Those were all the same with him never turning off the standard lines and telling the same stories (black girl who thinks he is Daley, something about the Cubs, etc.). But one time that sticks out was during the fair one year. He was with his family in the grandstand area and he was playing with his daughter by chasing her up and around a short handicap ramp. He kept this up for at least a half an hour, maybe more. I kept thinking of how devoted of a dad he was to keep chasing after his girl in a very repetitious game. Then I realized one of his press persons was off to the side giving him updates on which media outlets were picking up the story about the state planning to buy prescription drugs from Canada. He was very good at mixing the job of father and governor.

  23. - Paris - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 11:17 am:

    At the St. Patrick’s day parade last March, the governor was feverishly shaking every single hand in the crowd. I asked him who he’d name to the senate seat should Obama be elected president. He responded “send me your resume,” to which everyone laughed (except me). I should’ve told him I’d send him a check instead.

  24. - 2ConfusedCrew - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 11:46 am:

    I have spoe with a number of times but this anecdote is an event I witnessed
    GRod was running late for a bill signing and a another attendee encountered retired judge/ friend who was in the building for another event. When GRod finally arrived he was introduced to the retired judge. GRod asked what is doing. The judge said mediations. GRod turned to his stooges and said “we got to find this guy some business”
    That issued had not been raised.
    Everyone was embarrassed. Even the stooges.
    A slice of life

  25. - Snidely Whiplash - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 11:50 am:

    Several years ago, before he was a congressman. I only recall commenting to someone after he had left, “What an idiot!”

  26. - WAR DOG - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 12:54 pm:

    I have spoken to him up close many times–One I remember was him asking me about whether I thought he should have a certain security person promoted. I said to him that he should not be a person that would be making decisions over others. The next day he made a two step promotion of that person, which later on he was fired. About three days later the Gov asked me what I thought of what he had done and I said it didn’t make any difference what I thought that he was the Governor. He looked at me kind of funny and flipped his hair and went into his office. He never asked me anything again. He is highly PTSD and has a 1000 yd. stare like you can’t beleive.

  27. - shouldaknown - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 1:03 pm:

    The real RRB is best illustrated by the following, which I know from personal experience: The gov’s chicago office is on 16 at the JRTC, but part of the staff is just down the stairs on 15. Somebody correct me if I’m wrong, but to my knowledge he has never set foot on 15 and never met a number of staffers who have worked for him for years. He has never attended an office function or a holiday party, almost never thanked anybody for their service, never invited junior staff to a function of any kind, never convened a staff meeting, etc. etc. etc.

  28. - Randall Sherman - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 1:08 pm:

    the last time I spoke to Gov. Sleazy was when I attended the wake of his mother-in-law, Margarget Mell, two years ago. He actually sounded like a normal human being for once as he introduced me to the brother of the deceased. Unfortunately, it has become apparent that Rod is incapable of acting like a decent person for an extended length of time.

  29. - Sophie G - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 1:18 pm:

    At a news conference following a bill signing a couple years ago, the Gov was asked some questions about the legislation, which was a little complex, and what sort of positive impact it would have on taxpayers. He looked like a deer in headlights and was unable to give any details about the bill he just signed. It was stunning. To his credit, he played it off and said he was going to give a staffer their 15 min of fame by asking them to answer. But it was surreal and embarassing to watch him so unprepared.

  30. - Big Mama T - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 1:50 pm:

    I have had a couple of “encounters” with Blago but have never spoke to him. One day I was having a smoke outside the JRTC. My usual spot was near the door where Blago used to run out and hop into his SUV on the west side of the building. On this particular instance he hopped into his SUV, rolled down the window, stuck his head out and then stuck his tongue out at me. The other instance he did almost the same thing but this time he yelled something intelligible at me and waved. It was a curious wave. He seemed to have all of his fingers in a little fist except for one. And it wasn’t his index finger.

  31. - Big Mama T - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 1:52 pm:

    Uh, I meant he yelled something unintelligible at me.

  32. - Anonymous today - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 1:55 pm:

    He once told me that he voted for George H.W. Bush in 1992.

  33. - Green - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 2:43 pm:

    Walking up Ashland Ave last year I saw the Gov and three portly middle aged goons outside Fiorentino’s. This was in the middle of the CTA’s perennial budget crisis so I asked him about it. He was quite garrulous and blamed the whole thing on Madigan. We talked for probably 30 minutes or so, which seemed a very long time, considering it was freezing cold and 9 or so at night. I’m quite certain he’d been drinking as he kept repeating things and would go off on little tirades with his people. Eventually the cook came out because he wanted to meet the star, and I made way out. Though not before letting him know that I’d voted for Whitney.

  34. - Boscobud - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 3:00 pm:

    Blago has far to many screws loose. I thought this was a one time problem, but from what I am reading he is a loose cannon. I was trying to give him a little slack but I am obviously to naive to see this. Sorry for my last post.

  35. - Belle of the Blog - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 4:09 pm:

    Most recently at the DNC in Denver… he just seemed really happy that someone was talking to him, since most people at the luncheon were awkwardly looking away, like they hadn’t noticed him there.

  36. - Vote Quimby! - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 4:38 pm:

    About four years ago I followed him at a photo op (for which he was actually on time–a rarity) and told him about trying to get an interstate highway named after Senator Paul Simon. He referred me to a staffer, and I never heard back from them. It was later I found out about the friction between RRB & the Simon family…. btw Pat Quinn took over the issue and now we have 4 highways named after Paul Simon!

  37. - Spring1 - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 6:07 pm:

    During his first year in office I met with the guv in his office as part of a group discussing education improvements. I was very surprised when he said, “If I had had any idea what kind of financial shape the state is in, I never would’ve run for governor.” It struck me as true–but weird to announce it.

    I’m not surprised that he wanted to leave his post for something cushier like a do-nothing job a titular head of a non-profit or union. He didn’t want to serve out his term and now–well, he may be serving an even longer one. Ah, Illinois! May as well put on the state crest “From inauguration to incarceration.”

  38. - Zora - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 6:14 pm:

    Rich, this QOTD has been like a long cool drink of water after this week’s tumult; giving us much needed doses of humor and insight. Thanks for thinking of it.

  39. - Arthur Andersen - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 7:00 pm:

    The one-and only-time AA was in the same room with The Defendant was for a bill signing ceremony toward the end of his first year. He was in a hurry to boogaloo out of there to some party at Finkl’s and some of the peeps there for the ceremony were not at all in a hurry.

    He was antsy, cracking one-liners like Henny Youngman in the Catskills trying to get these people out of Dodge (this was, for the record, a Friday in Springfield in December.)

    Once pens were passed, a million pics were snapped, (he touched the hair before every shot FWIW) and the blabbers gone, he grabbed his coat and said to AA and the guy with me, “feel free to use the office. Make some phone calls, take pictures, whatever. Merry Christmas.”

    AA had been in that office before with three prior Govs but never had that offer.

  40. - Anonymous - Monday, Dec 15, 08 @ 7:05 pm:

    I was asked by my county chair to pick up this Congressman from Chicago and bring him to our Labor Day Picnic. I met Rod and 4 people travelling with him that day. I took him and his staff and introduced him around. The one thing that stuck out most from that meeting was Blagojevich’s staff asked me to compile a list of people he met. Off the top of my head I sent his staff 50-60 names and addresses. Several days later Blagojevich called me at my work and said the most important person on the list to thank was missing, me. I thought that was a heck of a nice gesture. Only time I ever talked to the guy. Makes me think I am gulible or just WTF went wrong.

  41. - Ahem, The REAL Anonymous - Tuesday, Dec 16, 08 @ 1:17 am:

    Yes, that was a nice gesture. How was he with the people you introduced?

  42. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Dec 16, 08 @ 7:40 pm:

    personable, charming, etc etc…played catch football with a kid who still remembers him.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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