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Question of the day

Tuesday, Aug 3, 2010

* Earlier this week, “Chicago Tonight” reran a documentary about Rod Blagojevich that it first aired in 2002. It’s definitely worth a look

* Eric Zorn looked back this week on what he wrote about Blagojevich in the early days

Several commenters and critics have sniffed that they recall I was quite enthusiastic about Blagojevich early on. Not so. A review of the archives from his election through the end of 2003 finds mostly offhand references, little praise and such digs as these:

* The Question: What was your first impression of Rod Blagojevich? Be honest and explain.

* Trial roundup…

* Orland Park insider writes about corruption

* Bettors, bookies believe odds stacked against Blagojevich

* All quiet at the courthouse

* Reading the Tea Leaves in Blagojevich Jury

* So it’s `Milorad’ is it?

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - lincolnlover - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 11:44 am:

    My first Blago sighting was a campaign commercial. He looked sincere, down-to-earth and very “common” man. He appeared to be a hard working, honest fella and so, I voted for him the first time around. Did NOT make that monumental mistake twice!

  2. - tubbfan - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 11:45 am:

    I was impressed by the way that he sewed up early support downstate especially given his name and pedigree. He seemed to me to be a media hound after he brought home a soldier from Yugoslavia (along with Jesse Jackson, I believe) and prevented a train from crossing the area with military waste.

  3. - train111 - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 11:47 am:

    I have voted in every Dem primary as long as I can remember.
    I voted for Paul Vallas who I thought would be a good governor. The then voted for Edwin Eisendrath because he wasn’t a total schmuck like RRB. I voted for 3rd party candidates in both general elections out of disgust.
    I never liked nor voted for RRB!!!


  4. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 11:48 am:

    train111, I didn’t ask for your voting history, I asked for your first impression.

  5. - Stooges - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 11:48 am:

    I saw him in the first month or so after he became governor. It was at an IDOT press conference and he was 25 minutes late and the press people there were complaining to his staff about his tardiness and not getting any briefing papers prior to the conference. He showed up and had no idea what he was talking. I was not impressed and it was downhill from there.

  6. - TroubleMaker - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 11:50 am:

    I tend to vote Republican, so I didn’t vote for him, but I recall being very impressed with the well-executed campaign strategy to win the nomination by sewing up Southern Illinois. As a native Southern Illinoisan, I never thought someone with a name like that could muster the votes. Obviously the “funny name” strategy worked quite well.

    Some time after he was first elected Governor, someone commented that he had close-set, beady little eyes. I hadn’t noticed that before, but now it’s all I see.

  7. - 47th Ward - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 11:50 am:

    I met him when he was a state rep. He was funny and self-deprecating, which made him sort of endearing and charming. I did some volunteer work for him then, and on his congressional campaigns, even helping out in a small role in the primary in 2002.

    As I got to know him better, and as he got higher up on the ladder, I could sense that he was headed for disaster. I only regret helping him get to the point that his disaster became ours.

    Early on though, it was hard not to like the guy. He had energy and what passes for charisma in Springfield. Yes, he was lazy and not very bright. But I didn’t find out he was crazy until it was too late.

  8. - CircularFiringSquad - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 11:51 am:

    The “first”
    As a new state rep…first time away from “home”…he looked like the chaser that he was, but that was all he hung with in SPI.

    As governor I was amazed how far Mel could drag him in the primary. Vallas’ fear of flying was a big plus.

    Anyone could have beat another Ryan in the general, the imaginary chef and TugBoatAnnie in the reelect.

  9. - siriusly - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 11:52 am:

    I first met him when he was running for Congress, and my first impression was that he was slick and cocky. He wasn’t really all that gracious, I remember him sort of gloating in Springfield like - hey you poor SOB’s I am so out of here.

  10. - just sayin' - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 11:52 am:

    My first impression was that someone with that name could never even win a statewide primary, much less a general election.

    But despite all of his goofiness and faults, Blago did keep his promise not to raise the income tax. A buck says a governor Bill Brady would break that promise and others before the end of January.

  11. - Ghost - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 11:54 am:

    He struck me as a slick used car salesman.

  12. - What's in a name? - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 11:56 am:

    A law school class mate clerked at the same business he did out of law school. His recollection was Rod had both the personality and intellectual horsepower of a piece of card board.

  13. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 11:58 am:

    My first newspaper column after Blagojevich was inaugurated is here. And click here for the second. A little excerpt…

    ===I told an acquaintance the other night that I had heard he was up for a major job in the Blago administration. He turned white as a ghost and begged me not to write about it. He even sent some mutual friends over to make sure I wouldn’t disclose his new position.

    Blagojevich’s henchmen have reportedly told prospective appointees that if their name gets mentioned by the media, their appointments could be jeopardized. In other words, if they talk about their future, they might not have one.

    This is all just ridiculous. The governor and his staff have enough to do without expending needless energy making sure that no scraps of information are released without their say-so.

    Besides, keeping this many secrets will make anyone paranoid. And paranoid people don’t usually govern too well. ===


  14. - Stones - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 12:02 pm:

    I can tell you that the Illinois congressional delegation in general thought of Blago as a lightweight and egomaniac during the time that he served.

  15. - VanillaMan - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 12:04 pm:

    I remember the moment he showed up on television running against Fitzgerald. My gut said he would be a winner because he was so charming. I knew he was going to win in 2002 the moment he announced.
    But within minutes I checked his record and saw that his charm was not backed up by any accomplishments. To me, that set off an alarm. I knew he was going to be elected, but smelled a rat at the same time.

    He never left my “rat” category since. Behind every statement, I saw fluff and nonsense. Behind every bill proposal I saw an empty suit. It hasn’t changed, naturally.

    He is a very charming crook.

  16. - Excessively Rabid - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 12:13 pm:

    I loathed him from the first time I saw him - every bit as much as I do now. I couldn’t believe my wife voted for him. Fortunately, it left me speechless. Patti, on the other hand, I always thought was trashy but rather appealing.

  17. - shore - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 12:17 pm:

    chicago tonight has the whole archive of his early appearances. If you’re a political junkie and have heard the term michael flanagan and don’t know who or what he was, there’s a lot of tape of him incidentally. Chicago Tonight needs to put more of its archives up.

    I met blago at a parade when he was running for governor. He shook my hand and my impression was-another democrat I will not be voting for.

  18. - ZC - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 12:18 pm:

    “Hmmm. We tried running a liberal, income-tax-hike raising, North Side lake shore liberal-beloved feminist for Governor. Didn’t work. We tried running a prairie populist, pro-life, pro-labor reformer for Gub. Didn’t work. Might as well try a Chicago city pol who’s willing to try and sort of split the difference between the two.”

    That was roughly my thinking. The other thing, I was impressed by just how many hands Rod could shake on a parade route. I thought he had an amazing amount of energy.

  19. - Walter Sobchak - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 12:19 pm:

    I saw him/met him at a Christmas Party shortly after he was first elected. First impression: short and snide looking. He worked the room (to steal from Hunter Thompson’s classic description of Hubert Humphrey) like a rat in heat. My thought for the night (four beers in) good god almighty…that guy is governor?!!

  20. - Toast - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 12:21 pm:

    A nerd. He always went back to Lincoln Towner early, if he went out at all, while his roommates Hoffman and Dart lit it up.

  21. - ourMagician - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 12:23 pm:

    My first impression was with the name thing how fluffy that was and what was Paul Simon doing endorsing this guy? Won him the downstate vote in a year a guy named Ryan no matter how honest, could win a governorship.

  22. - Wensicia - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 12:25 pm:

    I remember him first as a congressman, and hearing him talk, watching his body language, something about him was off, almost disturbing. My work involves people with behavior/personality disorders, the signs are not hard to recognize. I never voted for this guy.

  23. - Independent - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 12:28 pm:

    Snake oil salesman. I’ve met charming, vacuous empty suits like him who slithered into positions way above their levels of competence. Voted for Vallas in the ‘02 primary and cringed when Rod won.

  24. - OneMan - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 12:30 pm:

    To be honest that this was going to end with the feds…

    The whole ‘father-in-law ward boss’ seemed a bit too much like a TV movie.

  25. - Amalia - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 12:31 pm:

    met him with his father in law. saw him as a total

  26. - steve schnorf - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 12:46 pm:

    very charming with a great self-deprecating sense of humor

  27. - VanillaMan - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 12:47 pm:

    Yeah - Flanagan, not Fitzgerald.

    A charming, very charming crook. He tried too hard to be liked, and that made me wonder enough to take a look behind his facade. That was all he had.

  28. - Plutocrat03 - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 1:07 pm:

    He packaged himself as a breath of fresh air. Did not pass the smell test with his machine connections through his father in law.

  29. - The Captain - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 1:10 pm:

    First time I met him was watching him do retail. For all that we’ve learned you can’t take away that I’ve still never seen anyone as good at retail. For as good as Obama eventually became he’s not even in Blagojevich’s league.

  30. - Angry Republican - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 1:15 pm:

    My first impression of Blago was the second coming of Slick Willie. He shared many of the same characteristics, and was a rainmaker for the Democrat Party, until he self-destructed.

  31. - in absentia - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 1:20 pm:

    First it was hard to believe that such an obscure back bencher was going to win. But in reality there were a lot of positives given the initial team surrounding him. At first I had a lot of hope that his election would end a lot of the governmental distrust fostered by George Ryan. Well; sadly, that’s not the way it played…

  32. - TwoFeetThick - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 1:30 pm:

    Very first impression: as several have noted here, I thought there was no way a guy from Chicago with that last name stood any chance. I preferred Vallas anyway, and that’s who I went with.

    First impression upon meeting/talking with him: he came to a county dem bbq I was at during the general. I spoke to him for several minutes and found him a bit fluffy around the edges, but very charismatic and enthusiastic about the campaign. Changed my opinion of him enough that I was at least mildly excited about voting for him.

    First impression upon seeing him and his administration in action: ?! No explanation needed.

    I never voted for him again.

  33. - D.P. Gumby - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 1:36 pm:

    Met him briefly during early in the primary campaign and he seemed like a reasonable, young, optimistic lawyer w/ political promise. Just couldn’t get into Vallas. Still mourn Netch’s loss. Could never imagine he was capable of such FUBAR

  34. - Vote Quimby! - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 1:39 pm:

    I first saw him at an event in the Metro East–Jay Hoffmann was pouring his heart and soul (almost, it turned out) into this guy I had never heard of. He certainly had a lot of energy, but I instantly detected “Napoleon Symdrome”–short men who try and make up for lack of height with aggressiveness.

  35. - KnuckleHead - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 1:40 pm:

    Typical Chicago politician with a hair style that went out 30 yrs ago

  36. - Fan of the Game - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 1:49 pm:

    Being a registered Republican, I was in a quasi-adversarial position from the start. However, when he came to our county during his first campaign, he shook my hand even though I tried to fall into the background.

    It was easy to see he was the worst kind of politician–pandering, glad-handing, with not a sincere bone in his body. He had tried to do some homework about the county, but he goofed someone’s name and then denigrated one of the local landmarks.

    The second time I saw him was after he was elected, and he kept a crowd of about 500 waiting an hour and a half–his usually tardiness.

    It was easy to see he was sleazy and out for his own self interests.

  37. - Leave a Light on George - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 2:00 pm:

    I first saw him at the grand opening of the Shooting Complex in Sparta. It was blazing hot and he was dressed in a flannel checked shirt looking like Howdy Doody. He gave a speech (to a crowd of mostly out of state shooters) about his view on guns in Illinois and how he wasn’t going to raise the price of a FOID card. It sounded like a campaign speech from a Chicago pol trying to sound like he knew something about downstate and our lives as twenty first century Jed Clampets. Most of the crowd didn’t care or didn’t have a clue as to what he was talking about.

    Then I watched him work the crowd. He charmed everyone he shook hands with. He was in his element then and it showed.

  38. - Mr. Cow - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 2:03 pm:

    Ghost and I agree.

    I saw the rerun of Rod from 2002
    on CT and saw how he and Patti aged in eight years.

  39. - Ivory-billed Woodpecker - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 2:07 pm:

    First impression was while Blagojevich was in Congress and opposed the Army’s shipping waste napalm through Illinois on its way to Indiana. I had worked in the U.S. EPA’s hazardous waste regulatory program until shortly before and thought the Army’s arrangements sounded normal and appropriate and that his intervention looked like a cheap, alarmist stunt.

    Second impression was at a primary endorsement session during his first run for Governor. He showed up (on time, so well as I can remember; but really, how can that be?) in full hair and proceeded to recite the same “son of a steel worker and CTA token clerk” biography language he was then running in a TV ad. Everyone knew perfectly well who he was. We wanted to get some modestly deeper sense of the person and what he might like to accomplish. Everyone has a rehearsed stump speech. But he seemed not even interested in trying to appear sincere.

  40. - John Bambenek - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 2:09 pm:

    I’m amused that when Rod basically said Ald. Mell had no testicular virility, that began the turn of events that lead to his impeachment and arrest.

    His ego was his downfall before anyone really knew.

  41. - downhereforyears - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 2:14 pm:

    When I first met him, I must admit, I was impressed with his enthusiasm and his personality. Then he sent Chris Kelly to see me about some of my clients and I never felt comfortable from that day forward. This was before the election.

  42. - Louis Howe - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 2:19 pm:

    I met him when he was a State Rep. I thought of him as a typical Chicago homeboy just killing time in Springfield. He wasn’t a serious guy like Tom Dart, but I think Rod came in about the same time. I was very surprised when he ran for governor….for the record I supported Vallas but ended up voting for Rod in the general…twice.

  43. - flabergasted - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 2:22 pm:

    i speak as a naive voter I saw him as hope and changeto State government after the paranoia of Edgar’s admin staff and the problems of Ryan’s.
    I am no longer so naive.

  44. - Thoughts... - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 2:42 pm:

    My first impression was informed before I actually knew him, by friends of mine who knew him very well. A few thought he was a bright light, most thought him an empty, vacuous suit. When I first saw him, on the trail, I was impressed by how good he was, particularly one-on-one, but my overwhelming opinion was that he was a shyster. The first time I met him, also on the trail, he lied to me within the first minute. He later explained he had “bad information.” I’m a lifelong Dem and never voted him.

  45. - Anon factor - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 2:46 pm:

    Interviewed Blago during his first campaign and came away shocked at his lack of knowledge.
    When I asked someone he served with in Congress if he was really that empty of a suit, he said that was an understatement.

  46. - springpatchproud - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 2:52 pm:

    I thought from the start he was an unsophisticated politician, egotistical and selfish, and like 8 years later in 2010 he was just a mouthpiece without original thoughts or much to say. I thought he was only elected because the previous Guv Ryan paved the way for a Democrat. He made me disappointed in the 2-party system all the more .. being the best they could come up with as a viable candidate in one party. From the outset I thought he did a grand job alienating downstate Illinois by snubbing the governor’s mansion in Springfield.

  47. - jake - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 3:10 pm:

    I first saw him at a gathering in somebody’s home when he was running for the nomination in 2002. I thought he was energetic and self-confident, but I remember that he made a careless mistake in comments about the local political situation where the gathering was, that indicated he either had not been briefed or not paid attention. At the time I did give that mistake a lot of significance. In retrospect it seems pretty important. It was such a contrast to Paul Simon, who always seemed to know just what was happening in every town in Illinois he visited, and more importantly, seemed to care.

  48. - Senior Advocate - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 3:27 pm:

    I first met him at a fly around he was doing for prescription drugs for seniors - I was in the crowd and was asking a question - he approached me and then backed away quickly even though I was not finished asking the question - this puzzled me until one of his security approached me and told me not to worry - I was too tall to stand next to (I am 5′8″) and that he wouldn’t want the press to take a picture that showed how short he was. Didn’t make a good impression with me at all.

  49. - Quiet Sage - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 3:51 pm:

    He seemed like a friendly, rather shy backbencher in the Illinois House. It was a total surprise to me what he became.

  50. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 3:55 pm:

    It’s been so long ago that I can’t recall my first impression. I remember thinking that he was a happy go lucky back-bencher, who didn’t do much work or thinking, but with a powerful ward backer who would likely move up despite himself.

    I wrote about him early on as being the model for what the Machine did after the 91 remap. Instead of running oldtime hacks, look for attractive liberals who would still toe the Machine line when push came to shove. That’s pretty much what we have today.

  51. - Festus Hagen - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 4:34 pm:

    As a Republican (and after George Ryan), I was so embarassed with my having voted for that crook that I would have been okay with anyone being our next governor as long as he wasn’t a member of the Mafia or a Republican. When I met Blagojevich, I found him to be a very likeable guy. He was over 30 minutes late in showing up but I had heard from others that this was a Blagojevich trademark so this didn’t upset me.

    Two years later after Blagojevich had been serving as governor, I asked one of my Democrat friends (a retired state senator) where he saw Blagojevich’s future career path taking him. I asked, ” Do you see him heading on to the White House?”

    My Democrat friend replied, “I see him heading to prison.” I said, “You are kidding, aren’t you?” He replied, “No. Trust me, I am as serious as a heart attack.” My friend didn’t go into any lengthy discussion as to “why” he had made this derogatory comment about a member of his own Democrat Party. It just really surprised me because I knew that he often interacted with Blagojevich. Reflecting back on it, I now wish that I had asked him “why” he felt that way back then. My friend knew and was close friends with all of the main players within the Democrat Party back then (Mike Madigan, Emil Jones, etc.).I knew my friend liked Glen Poshard and I guess that I probably just thought that it was spoiled grapes on my friend’s part back then. But I also knew that my Democrat friend was seldom wrong when it came to his uncanny accuracy in making political predictions. So, I made a point to remember his prediction. And, the rest was history.

  52. - Levois - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 5:06 pm:

    I didn’t really pay a lot of attention to Blagojevich. Not before he became governor and my first impression on him came via The Capitol Fax. It was probably when my impression of him became very negative. Watching that piece however I really do begin to wonder what went wrong.

  53. - PalosParkBob - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 5:54 pm:

    I met him frequently prior to the 2002 election when he was making his weekly pilgrimmage to pick up his campaign contribution check at my former bosses’ office.

    My former boss got a seat on the UI Board of Trustees out of the deal, and boy, did he live to regret it!

    Blago was a little too glib and had that larcenous look in his eyes, the kind you see in a less than reputable car dealer.

    I was so “impressed” by him that I was motivated to volunteer and contribute to Vallas. After Blago was elected he pretty much lived down to my expectations.

    At least he had a modicum of charm lacking in fellow crooks George Ryan and Paul Powell!

  54. - Bill - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 6:01 pm:

    I thought he was one of the best politicians I had ever seen. He could work rooms, big and small, very well. Women seemed to like him. He was very charasmatic and gave a nice stump speech. I knew he would achieve higher office and that he would rarely, if ever, lose an election. If he would have stuck with Dick and done what he was told who knows how far he could have gone.
    But Nooooooooo.

  55. - Justice - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 6:16 pm:

    He struck me as an arrogant, self serving buffoon…..and I am an excellent judge of character, especially when none of value exists!

  56. - Chicago Cynic - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 7:00 pm:

    My first impression was that he was kind of a slimeball, off and really inappropriate with a twisted sense of himself. This was augmented by his repeated insistence of responding “boy, did I marry well or what” when telling some individuals his story.

  57. - Gregor - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 7:04 pm:

    That was a well-done profile piece, gives you some erie feelings now that we all know what we know. Worth watching just for the Shmengie Brothers-like picture of Young Milorad and Bolek and the Nixon autograph. Also, in current context, maybe gives some insight into the underpinnings and formation of Rod’s personal psychology.

    I didn’t know much about any of the candidates in the primary. I had friends though who were spitting mad that Vallas didn’t get the nod: made things sound like we had the choice of The Archangel Gabriel and Satan, and chose wrong. They quit and told me to get out while I could. I pooh-pooh’ed them as fanatics and overly-dramatic. But there were spot-on about everything. We just didn’t have enough information to act on, and we were wishing so hard for a deliverer.

    I fell for Rod’s first campaign, hook, line and sinker. Being a lifelong dem suffering and chafing under republican rule, I would have voted for anybody not named Ryan, and crawled over broken glass to do his will for the good of the state. I was ready for change, the election felt like Bastille Day. But my friend warned me to keep my head down, wait a bit, hang back, and not get too chummy with the new regime yet; they had “heard things”.

    And it wasn’t long before we got the first hints that his running shoes were full of clay. We kept asking his people when the campaign victory lap would end, and we could get down to the business of governing and rolling back the things we’d not liked about republican rule. We were all stoked to reform the (redacted) out of the government, and it seemed we had the mandate and the guy to lead it.

    About the end of the first year of the first term is when I got my handle: it comes from Kafka’s character Gregor Samsa, who went to sleep a democrat, and woke up a republican, or at least, an Independent Liberal, wondering if being a Dem was just a distant dream.

  58. - Lakeview Runner Guy - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 7:30 pm:

    Meant “narcissistic.”

  59. - Red - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 7:51 pm:

    I must admit I didn’t think much of Rod first time I laid eyes on him; looked like a stiff breeze would blow him over. That was my first impression of the man.

  60. - steve schnorf - Tuesday, Aug 3, 10 @ 9:14 pm:

    Flabergasted, I worry that you are out to get me.

  61. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Aug 4, 10 @ 6:30 am:

    Mell’s boy. I was wrong.

  62. - bobarmour - Wednesday, Aug 4, 10 @ 9:21 am:

    First impression of Rod? vapid and ungrounded.

    If you’d like to revisit Blago’s events over the past 2+ years, check out

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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