Today's biggest news story, across town and across the country, is the arrest of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich for some fairly spectacular corruption charges.
The centerpoint of those being reported is that Blagojevich allegedly demanded compensation for the appointment to the seat in the US Senate vacated by the President-elect.
In reality, the charges are far more wide-ranging than that, and include criminal acts already accomplished, and not just planned as the Senate allegation is.
Rod Blagojevich is yet another Cook County Democratic Machine operative, and as such, most close observers of Illinois politics not attached to the Machine already assumed that Blagojevich was on his way to join many another of recent Illinois governors. Just in Your Correspondent's lifetime, three have gone to the Big House: Otto Kerner, Dan Walker, and George Ryan. Certainly, if Blagojevich should join that muster, it would have to be some sort of record somewhere.
Actually, northeastern Illinois politicians take the long ride to Oxford (Wisconsin Federal Pen) in rather large numbers. The most well-known of the recent convicts is actually not a politician, per se, in that he has not been elected. But Tony Rezko's position in the Machine, called a "fixer", is just another job opportunity for the people who've been "sent".
Your Correspondent could never hope to catch up to Chicago Tribune stalwart, political feature columnist John Kass. In some ways, a successor the wonderful Mike Royko, author of the Chicago explication "Boss", Kass has been on the point of all journalists, local and national, in keeping track of all the ins and outs of the Machine. His columns tell a decades-long tale of connections and corruption, of Outfit (as the Mafia is known around here) and Big Labor attachments and infiltrations that defy human comprehension.
The current governor, now in his second term (yes, he got re-elected... a cause for wonder, too), is a typical Machine product manufactured for national consumption.
Glib and photogenic, Blagojevich married the daughter of long-time Machine alderman Richard Mell, Patty, and was quickly started on the now-familiar path. First an Illinois State Representative, with a campaign platform that consisted of little more than stringent gun-control proposals, he was then inserted into the second point of his career path, the governorship.
Almost from the moment he took office, he was being systematically "mentioned" for the US presidency. Given his photogenic appearance and ability to speak in public with a modicum of apparent intelligence, he fit the familiar profile of Daley sendees being dispatched Washington-ward in order to do the bidding of the Mayor.
Other recent operatives issued forth along with Blagojevich include former US Senator Carol Moseley Braun, a repeated Presidential mentionee who skulked from office after a large amount of stupid and conflcited public behavior got enough headlines that the Machine threw her overboard.
The most obvious of this cohort is of course, President-elect Barack Obama, who, similarly equipped with with charm, charisma, and that same ability to speak seemingly intelligently, with added bonus feature of being half-black, went on to the White House in order to help keep his Mayor out of prison, and swimming in a large pool of federal money to save the failing City and County.
Already obvious as Blagojevich's replacement is Illinois State Attorney General Lisa Madigan. The daughter of the imperious Illinois Senate President Michael Madigan and a dutiful Machine operative, she is placeholding in the Springfield equivalent of Press Release Heaven.
The state AG really doesn't have to do much besides get on television. It goes without saying that the staggering corruption and criminality of Cook County rolls merrily along without the slightest thought of the AG intruding in any way. I can't recall a single instance of the State Attorney General's office even presenting so much as a single word about pursuing corruption on the northeast corner of the state.
Madigan is frequently mentioned as Obama's successor, too, and not "just" in the US Senate. With a clear path to the Illinois Governor's Mansion about to open before her- the current Lt. Governor, Pat Quinn, is hard to imagine as holding on to the governorship once Daley settles upon Madigan- she should be able to continue her constant stream of press releases about child-safety initiatives and senior-assistance programs as the media horde is carefully prepped and assembled into the same sort of juggernaut that placed Obama on Pennsylvania Avenue.
More will come out about Blagojevich's misdeeds, alleged and accomplished, but, mysteriously, those around him are somehow being treated in the media as surprised, and innocent, bystanders.
Already, Richard Daley's gotten on the radio to say "these things happen", and "it's just an individual thing", as if the environment in which Blagojevich's sort of activities are just ordinary, every-day, business as usual. Obama will portray himself as surprised and saddened, and Madigan will be nowhere near the investigation or the charges.
What, one wonders, an Attorney General is for, but apparently an Illinois AG need not be able to detect the sort of doings that propel the likes of Moseley Braun, Obama, Bloagojevich, and Madigan towards national eminence.
One wonders if the non-Chicagoans on the national scene who believe that the Machine's new President is something new and special will be able to make the logical connection. We will just submit that these folks should just remember Obama's predecessors like Moseley Braun and Blagojevich.