In effort to report news from the great state of Illinois, and not simply attack a particular candidate, it is imperative that people outside this state know something about the state and its political history, since around 1950. First, we have convicted more former governors and sent them to prison in my lifetime than any state in the union. And Chicago is synonymous with political jokes about corruption and influence. The most humorous line you hear before every Chicago election is: "Vote early and vote often!" And Chicago has a long history in having a major influence in the Democratic Party. Think of the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, and now his son, Richard M. Daley. And remember that it was Bill Daley, the brother of Richard M., who directed the Al Gore campaign in 2000.
So, from my front row seat in Illinois forgive me if I am always a tad skeptical about the role of influence in politics in my state.
Long before Senator Joseph Biden became Senator Obama’s running mate there was another person who had his eye on the big prize, or even on the second spot: Governor Rob Blagojevich (pronounced: "bla-goia-vick). Our governor had huge ambitions just like our young junior senator has shown. What will soon make the rounds is that there is a relationship between the former campaign manager for Biden and our governor. I refer to convicted felon Joseph Cari. Cari, a Harvard-educated lawyer, a political financier, power broker and the former fundraising chairman of the Democratic National Committee, will soon be in prison. Cari goes to prison for pleading guilty to extorting money for Gov. Blagojevich from an investment firm that was seeking state contracts in Illinois. Cari has deep connections with both Blagojevich and Biden, and loose connection to Obama.
Cari was Biden’s top campaign official and helped him get elected to the senate in his first run in 1988. He also helped him run for the presidency. And who was Biden’s campaign chair twenty years ago? None other than William Daley, the brother of his honor, the mayor of Chicago. Cari and Bill Daley were so successful in 1988 that they raised more money for Biden than any other candidate for the senate that year. And shortly before Cari’s indictment in 2006 Biden called him "an honorable guy." He was planning to appoint him, at that time, to a high-ranking position in his own bid for the White House.
Now let me be very clear about this. The Illinois shakedown scheme has nothing directly to do with Biden at all, except that his judgment is called into serious question by his long term association with such a man. This was not just a passing relationship, as is argued for Obama’s relationship with another Illinois figure, Tony Rezko. But this is not a strong argument against Biden since no one who is in politics for long can avoid this problem entirely, or so it seems from my bench in Illinois.
Now the governor. Cari told prosecutors that the governor told him he "could award contracts, legal work, and investment banking" in exchange for campaign financial help. And Blagojevich’s right hand guy was Antoin "Tony" Rezko, the same man who wanted the governor to use Cari as a national campaign finance director for a potential run for the presidency. This is the same Mr. Cari who once told a prospective donor, who was being shaken down, "This is how things work in Illinois." Cari knew the truth, in this case, when he saw it. Illinois is a state that seems to sell itself to the highest bidders.
When a $1.5 million bribe became a federal issue, and prosecutors wanted to get Tony Rezko, Joseph Cari pleaded guilty since he was very directly involved in this messy case. For this he is now going to prison. Cari testified about a private trip he made to a New York fundraiser in 2003, and told how the governor spoke about his political future at the time. Cari said, "He had aspirations beyond the governorship." Prosecutor Reid J. Schar asked, "What did you understand by that?" Cari answered, "Running for the presidency." This testimony helped to convict Tony Rezko, who you will hear a lot more about in the next 70 days.
What about the Illinois governor? Well, he was there next to Biden and Obama on Saturday at the big event. But his stock has tumbled big-time. There has even been talk of impeaching him or calling for a recall election. He would not have won in the last election, in 2006, had he not had such a weak opponent.
Does any of this touch Senator Obama directly? Well Cari was a top level money man for the Illinois party when the senator rose up the Illinois ladder. But, and this is an important but, he had no official position with Obama. But Cari was tightly wound connected to Rezko who Obama admits had a twenty year relationship with him. In fact, the Obama campaign did return a $1,439.59 donation to Cari during the height of the investigation.
Obama is not guilty of any impropriety because of this scandal, so far as we know. He has very frankly admitted bad judgment. I hope this was all there was. I am inclined to believe him. If he is elected the last thing that we need is a prolonged special investigation into his past after he becomes the president. Such has already tainted our leadership for decades.
What is clearly true is this—the Biden/Cari/Rezko connection is very strong. They did have official connections over the last twenty years. Thus one cannot doubt that we will hear more about this during the course of this election.
So you can see how my front row seat here in Illinois offers me some interesting daily chatter that most of you are spared. Our state is in a mess, financially, socially and politically. It is a pretty corrupt state. Even the Democratic Party is now feuding, and for good reason, with its own governor. Early reports are that they will have a hard time being in the same room at the convention this week. But for now the Democrats control my state. Why? The Republicans had their own run of corruption and left the front door wide open. They ran out of great candidates, lost the confidence of large numbers of the people, and all but destroyed themselves. Unless they build a "new" party in this state the Democrats can mess up several more times and still retain their power. Either way the prospects for clean government in my state are very slim. I moved here in 1969 and the entire time that I’ve resided in this state we have had a governor who has been coming or going to jail. Now you know.