Serious allegations against Illinois Gov.

December 9, 2008 12:58:43 PM PST
You want to take a long shower after reading the sordid allegations against Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. He was arrested early this morning by FBI agents, after the U.S. Attorney had bugged his office and wiretapped his home phone. The conversations, as outlined in the criminal complaint, are, if true, the height of corruption and public betrayal.

Picking a successor to fill Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat would have been up to Blagojevich (pronounced "blah-goy-vitch") - at least until his arrest. (CLICK HERE for more)

And what the documents allege is that he was willing to "sell" the seat. Prosecutors claim the Governor wanted money, lots of it, in exchange for appointing any one of several people to the Senate seat. And the money wasn't just for him; he wanted his wife named to corporate boards of directors - positions that would pay her a six-figure annual sum.

The Governor was also charged with threatening to withhold state assistance to the Tribune Co., which yesterday filed for bankruptcy, in its attempt to sell Wrigley Field. In exchange for state assistance, Blagojevich allegedly wanted the newspaper to fire editorial board members who had been critical of him.

If it's true, what a guy.

As an aside, the Tribune found out about the wiretapping of the Governor a couple of weeks ago, and, at the request of the U.S. Attorney's office in Chicago, delayed publication of the story because it "would jeopardize the criminal investigation," according to the Trib's editor. And it would be quite fascinating to find out if the Trib's CEO, Sam Zell, a multi-gazillionaire real estate magnate, had a reaction to this firing-editorial-board-writers for help with selling Wrigley Field.

There is absolutely no evidence that Barack Obama is tied in to any of this scummy behavior - I mean alleged scummy behavior. But this kind of story is the last kind of publicity the President-elect needs, as he tries to form a new Administration and tackle the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

Today, Obama responded to the scandal: "I had no contact with the Governor or his office, and so we were not, I was not aware of what was happening. And as I said, you know, it's a sad day for Illinois."

However, on Nov. 23, Obama's senior advisor David Axelrod, on the local Fox TV affiliate in Chicago, said that he knows Obama has "talked to the Governor and there are a whole range of names, many of which have surfaced, and I think he has a fondness for a lot of them."

What makes these allegations even more outrageous is that Blagojevich has already been the target of a federal investigation involving a $7 million kickback scheme from companies trying to do business with the State of Illinois. Also in that investigation is Antoin "Tony" Rezko, who raised money for both Blagojevich and Obama. He is waiting to be sentenced for his conviction on fraud and other charges.

It's all a slimy mess.

The allegations -- and it's a fascinating read -- give us a behind-the-scenes look at how some politicians deal with these kinds of decisions. We can only hope most are not like the Illinois Governor.

The problem for Illinois is how now to find Obama's replacement in the U.S. Senate. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois has suggested holding a special election.

And given the corruption scandal, the idea might fly.

One wonders if that idea should also be embraced here in New York, where a replacement for U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton has turned into some kind of political melodrama.

Gov. David Paterson, who wasn't elected to the job, is supposed to appoint the replacement. And two people whose names have been bandied about have never been elected to public office: Caroline Kennedy and Randi Weingarten, the teachers' union president.

I'm sure both women could do a good job. But in the interest of democracy, should the person appointed make a pledge not to run when the next scheduled federal election is held in 2010? Or should the person appointed be someone who's already been given the stamp of approval in a statewide election? Or any election?

I'm just sayin'.

To avoid an argument over either of those strategies -- and there are plusses and minuses for each -- perhaps the special election makes sense.

I'm sure Gov. Paterson is watching the Illinois situation.

And so are we. We'll have the latest on both stories, tonight at 11.

The Yankees and Mets making news tonight -- and it's not just about their on-the-field antics. Instead, it's their construction antics. There are many who wonder why in the world the public has anything to do with building private ballparks. Now the teams want the City to float hundreds of millions of dollars worth of additional bonds to pay for building their new stadiums. (CLICK HERE for more)

What's going on here? There are many critics asking that question tonight. We'll have the latest.

We're also looking into what some activists say will be a day of protest tomorrow. "Call in gay" is what they're calling it - gays and lesbians taking the day off work Wednesday to show how much the country relies on them. The goal is to support same-sex marriage, and the protest coincides with International Human Rights Day. Is this an effective tool, especially during an economic crisis? We'll see.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Scott Clark with the night's sports. I hope you can join Sade Baderinwa (in for Liz Cho) and me, tonight at 11.

BILL RITTER


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