Mt. Vernon Register-News

June 22, 2009

AP Exclusive: Blago’s politics all in day’s work


By JOHN O’CONNOR

AP Political Writer

SPRINGFIELD (AP) — Rod Blagojevich had misplaced a $10,000 campaign contribution. Luckily, his wife found the check at home and told the governor’s secretary, who promised to take care of it.

Soon the money was deposited safely, just after the donor’s daughter began a new job at the state Department of Corrections.

Campaigning. Governing.

The incident and others like it hint at how intertwined the two became during the former Illinois executive’s tenure, according to an Associated Press review of a phone log kept by the Chicago Democrat. He was impeached and ejected from office and faces a federal indictment on corruption charges.

The log, other records and interviews show that under the self-styled reform governor:

—A relative of the tailor who made Blagojevich’s suits worth $2,000 or more sought a state job. She got it.

—Dozens of people Blagojevich met, as well as political contributors, friends and even his dentist, were invited to lodge at the governor’s mansion in Springfield.

—A taxpayer-paid travel aide appears to have been dispatched on personal errands, picking up the governor’s suits or delivering Scotch on a Saturday for another aide’s Christmas party.

—Blagojevich’s staff balked at allowing a Cook County commissioner to meet with him because an aide said she hadn’t helped his campaign.

It’s implausible that Blagojevich is the first governor to have an assistant run errands or to block a meeting because of politics. He’s accused of federal crimes much worse, including attempting to sell an appointment to Barack Obama’s Senate seat. He’s pleaded not guilty.

But the anecdotes give a glimpse of Blagojevich’s attitude toward an old-school view of politics and government that he promised to eradicate when he took over from George Ryan, the Republican serving federal time for corruption, a prosecution that signaled to Illinois politicians blurring the lines that they faced a new level of legal scrutiny.

“They knew the rules, but it never seemed to fully permeate the brain that it applied to them,” Cynthia Canary, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said of Blagojevich’s administration.

Sending a campaign check to a government office might set off alarm bells because state law prohibits political activities in state buildings. But that apparently didn’t stop Blagojevich’s wife from putting one from Chicago businessman James Gordon in the governor’s briefcase, to be fetched by Mary Stewart, the secretary in the governor’s downtown office.

“Patti found check,” Blagojevich’s phone log, kept by Stewart, said on March 3, 2004. “Will put in your briefcase tomorrow and I will retrieve tomorrow afternoon.”

That day, Blagojevich’s campaign reported Gordon’s $10,000 contribution. It was two days after his daughter, Elaine, started with the Corrections Department as a paid intern, which allowed her to be hired without following employment laws such as one giving military veterans first crack at state jobs.

Gordon or his businesses contributed $150,000 to Blagojevich from 2000 to 2008, including $10,000 on Nov. 4, 2003, a week before he called Blagojevich seeking a job for his daughter, according to the log. Elaine Gordon left her state job, where she was making $50,000 a year, in December 2005.

Neither Stewart nor James or Elaine Gordon returned calls from The AP seeking comment. Blagojevich’s publicist did not respond to a request for comment.

Rocco Giovannangelo made no political contributions, but as tailor at Chicago’s world-famous Oxxford Clothes, he stitched up Blagojevich’s handmade suits.

Just four days after Blagojevich was inaugurated in January 2003, the phone log reads, “Daniela Lazazzera, Rocco’s niece, wants a secretarial position. ... Rod spoke to Rocco.”

Lazazzera, of Harwood Heights, was an administrative assistant for the Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity from September 2003 to August 2005, making $38,500. She declined comment.

Another Oxxford employee, Christopher Corcoran, appears in the log repeatedly, offering fabric swatches for Blagojevich to peruse. The Park Ridge resident was hired to a $92,500 DCEO job last August and Gov. Pat Quinn fired him in April in a housecleaning move.

Giovannangelo said his only contact with the governor was as a tailor helping a customer and that he last made Blagojevich a suit two years ago.

“I don’t see him, I don’t call him, I have no contact with him at all,” said Giovannangelo, declining to comment further.

In September 2003, the log notes that four tickets and a parking pass to some event had been set aside for Giovannangelo. “Andy will take to Rocco & pick up your suits,” the log reads.

“Andy” was assigned other errands — to pick up a book for Chicago Alderman Edward Burke and to deliver whisky to Blagojevich’s legal counsel Susan Lichtenstein’s house for a December 2003 Christmas party.

The only person named Andy on Blagojevich’s government payroll at the time was Andrew Prindable, a $40,000-a-year travel aide who left in May 2004. Prindable declined to comment.

Blagojevich’s phone log is littered with people calling to take him up on invitations to be overnight guests at the governor’s mansion.

University of Illinois trustee Niranjan Shah, whose engineering firm gave Blagojevich $50,000, called in November 2005 to say “thank you” for his visit. Others who were invited include Chicago attorney Bob Clifford, who contributed more than $500,000 to Blagojevich; schoolchildren who had been turned away when they tried to lobby Blagojevich at the state Capitol; and Blagojevich’s dentist.

Politics came into play even when other officeholders — including Democrats — came calling.

Cook County Commissioner Earlean Collins, a former state senator, insisted on a private meeting with Blagojevich in June 2004.

The log doesn’t indicate if she got her sit-down, but an e-mail includes an aide’s observation that Collins “did not do anything for us during the campaign.”