As reaction to the Rod Blagojevich verdict flowed into our newsroom Monday afternoon, one remark in particular grabbed our attention.
“I’m glad that the verdict is finally in on Rod Blagojevich. However, this closes only one chapter of Democrat corruption in Illinois,” said Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady. “Illinois Democratic politicians who now try everything they can to hide their past support of Rod Blagojevich should look themselves in the mirror and remind themselves that little has changed since the day Blagojevich was arrested.”
Sorry, Mr. Brady, but the next and final chapter in the Operation Board Games saga is due to arrive in a few months with the trial of longtime Republican leader William Cellini. Preceding Blagojevich with a federal conviction was Stuart Levine, who pleaded guilty in October 2006 to mail fraud and money laundering charges for bribery schemes while he was a board member of the Teachers’ Retirement System of Illinois and the state Health Facilities Planning Board.
Levine was in a position to demand bribes only because of his ascension into top Republican power circles through heavy fundraising in the years before Blagojevich became governor. That’s what made him useful to Blagojevich fundraiser Antoin “Tony” Rezko, who also was convicted in Operation Board Games.
For that matter, Blagojevich’s ascent to the governor’s office received a tremendous boost from the corruption scandal that had engulfed George Ryan by his final year as governor and ultimately landed him in federal prison. Some of those charges went back to Ryan’s years as secretary of state in the 1990s.
Rod Blagojevich may be our villain of the moment — and a 100 percent worthy villain, to be sure — but corruption in Illinois politics is not and has never been the exclusive province of one political party.