Blagojevich’s arrest shocks, appalls local leaders

By Paolo Cisneros

One hundred and fifty miles to the north, the governor of Illinois sat in federal custody. Ninety miles to the west, legislators rushed to determine what happens next. And in Urbana, local officials reacted with disgust to corruption charges raised against the already unpopular Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

“This is a very sad day for the state of Illinois,” said former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar.

He wasn’t alone in his sentiment.

Mere hours after the governor was arrested on charges of corruption, including trying to sell Barack Obama’s former seat in the U.S. Senate, the calls for his resignation came flying in from all corners of the state.

“I hope he would do the honorable thing and resign,” said state Sen. Michael Frerichs, D-52. “I have called publicly for him to focus on his legal troubles and let someone else govern Illinois.”

Edgar, who served as governor from 1991 until 1999, also called for Blagojevich to step down.

The severity of the charges was astonishing, if not totally unexpected, he said.


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Blagojevich’s history in photos

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“I was shocked,” he said. “And I try not to be shocked by anything Gov. Blagojevich does.”

State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-103, said she had received several phone calls from constituents urging her to push for Blagojevich’s resignation.

Like a number of other representatives, Jakobsson said she was appalled by the governor’s alleged actions.

Still, she said the news wasn’t a complete surprise. Many in the General Assembly and across the state suspected him of unscrupulous use of his power.

“I can’t answer for why he is the way he is,” she said.

State Sen. Dan Rutherford, R-53, said this morning’s revelations cost the governor the public’s trust, even if he didn’t have much of it left.

“I think that his ability to govern the state of Illinois before this morning was almost zero,” he said. “And now with his arrest, it is even lower than that.”

While many state officials said they weren’t surprised that charges against Blagojevich were finally raised, they were taken aback by their severity.

Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan was convicted of corruption charges in April 2006 after he sold truck drivers’ licenses to unqualified drivers. He is currently serving time in a federal prison.

Ryan’s crimes, however, pale in comparison to the charges raised against Blagojevich, Edgar said.

He went on to say that he believes a bi-partisan committee should be assembled as an alternative to holding a special election to fill Illinois’ empty Senate seat.

“I think an election’s the last thing we need in Illinois right now,” he said. “It’s probably not the best time to have a partisan fight.”

The theme of Edgar’s comments was a need for a new dawn of Illinois politics.

The state is wounded, he said. Strong leadership and an attitude of bi-partisanship from all units of government are what is needed to nurse it back to health.

“We’re going to have to pull together in Springfield to face the huge challenges facing this state,” he said.

Despite all the commotion surrounding the arrest, Illinois Board of Higher Education member Jay Bergman said higher education is unlikely to be affected since the state’s 2010 budget, which is put together by the governor, has yet to go before the General Assembly.

“I think we’re probably alright,” he said. “The legislature will do whatever it wants to do with (the budget) next year anyway.”

University officials were unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Blagojevich was released on a signature bond that specifies that he’ll forfeit $4,500 bond if he doesn’t appear in court.

He was also was ordered to relinquish his passport and his firearm owner’s identification card.

On a day when Illinois found itself yet again under the watchful eye of the national media, officials searched for a light at the end of the tunnel.

It wasn’t an easy thing to find, but Edgar said he believed the day’s events would help lead to an Illinois electorate that takes state elections more seriously and subsequently, make better choices.

“We have to pay better attention to who we’re electing governor,” he said. “The public is just going to have to say, ‘Enough is enough.'”

Staff writer Melissa Silverberg and The Associated Press contributed to this report

UI law professor explains charges against Blagojevich

The indictment from the U.S. State’s attorney is a 76-page document alleging several crimes against Gov. Rod Blagojevich that were discovered through months of federal investigation. While the charges may be difficult to understand, University Law professor Andrew Leipold was able to help break them down.

Involvement with the Chicago Tribune

“As I understand it, the basic idea is that the governor had influence over a state board that controlled financing for Wrigley Field, which is owned by Tribune company,” Leipold said.

He also said the indictment suggests that if the Tribune did not fire editorial board members that were critical of the governor, he would hold off on finances for the ballpark.

“It is also part of the claim that he was depriving the people of honest government,” he said.

Pay to play

The phrase “pay for play” has been thrown around by the media and the U.S. attorney’s office as another accusation against Gov. Blagojevich. According to the affidavit released by the state’s attorney Tuesday, Blagojevich and Chief of Staff John Harris are guilty of “soliciting or knowingly accepting, for the performance of any act, a fee or reward which (Blagojevich) knows is not authorized by law.”

Leipold explained this charge was essentially “taking money for conducting state business.”

Selling the seat

Gov. Blagojevich has also been accused of soliciting a bribe in exchange for the open senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.

“That’s just good old fashioned bribery,” Leipold said. “It’s like saying if you want something from me, you have to pay me for it.”

No replacement has yet been named for the President-elect’s senate seat and Obama has said he was not aware of what was going on with the governor’s office.

How serious are the charges?

While Leipold said Blagojevich could receive significant jail time, it is difficult to tell just how much at this point. However, he added that there will be enormous pressure on him to resign.

“Even if he is completely innocent, it will be hard for him to conduct state business and govern effectively while he is under this cloud of suspicion,” Leipold said. “It is frustrating to hear the level of corruption being alleged.”

Compiled by Andrew Maloney and Melissa Silverberg