Doug Finke Statehouse Insider column for Sunday, March 2.
*For months, Gov. ROD BLAGOJEVICH and his press staff have denied that he is the most famous code name in the history of Illinois, Public Official A.
If you believe federal prosecutors, Public Official A had charming acquaintances, like STUART LEVINE and ANTOIN “TONY” REZKO. Levine and Rezko were charged with shaking down companies trying to do business with the Teachers’ Retirement System. Levine pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges.
Throughout the court papers filed on Levine and Rezko, Public Official A appears, talking about how he has “a lot of ways of helping friends” and how he can award contracts, legal work and other goodies to bolster campaign fundraising efforts.
Using anonymous sources, news outlets long ago said Blagojevich was Public Official A. However, he and his press staff persisted in their denials. It’s not like anyone was being directly quoted saying the governor is Public Official A.
Now someone is. Federal Judge AMY ST. EVE last week confirmed what everyone except the governor already knew, that he is, in fact, Public Official A. Of the administration’s responses to the new revelation, the one given to the Daily Herald is the best.
“The media has been closely covering the allegations in this case for well over a year, and (the) disclosure repeated what’s already been reported,” spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff told the paper.
Of course, what was already reported was denied by the administration. No problem. The new line is that even if Blagojevich is Public Official A, the activities ascribed to said official just don’t sound like the governor.
Rezko’s trial starts Monday. We’ll know soon enough if Blagojevich sounds like Public Official A.
*This week’s contest involves Public Official A. Try to guess how many public appearances he will make once the trial gets under way. No bonus points for guessing how many times he will answer questions at those appearances. That one’s too easy.
*There’s growing skepticism about Northern Illinois University’s plans to memorialize the students killed or wounded in a shooting rampage two weeks ago. There well should be.
NIU wants to demolish the building where the shootings occurred and use the site for a memorial. A new building will replace the demolished one. The price tag is $40 million.
No one is suggesting that there should not be some fitting memorial to the students, but $40 million? That’s excessive. The Vietnam, Korean War and World War II memorials at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield didn’t cost $5 million together.
In addition, there is no indication the building to be demolished — which is 40 years old — has any serious structural problems. Until the shootings, it wasn’t a candidate for demolition.
Blagojevich’s press staff sent an e-mail to reporters making it clear that this thing wasn’t his idea, that it originated with NIU. Nonetheless, Blagojevich went to NIU, endorsed the plan and called on lawmakers to fund it. It’s the best of both worlds. Get a photo-op showing empathy for the dead and wounded students, then dump it all back on lawmakers to pay for it. If the project doesn’t happen, it’s not the governor’s fault.
That leaves lawmakers caught in the middle. They know there isn’t $40 million lying around to spend on a memorial. But they’re also going to be under pressure to pay for it and not appear insensitive to the tragedy.
There seems to be a general feeling among rank-and-file lawmakers that they’re not going to get rushed into this, regardless of sentiment. Good for them.
*The Illinois Senate was scheduled to be in session Tuesday. They’ve now canceled.
“Several members indicated they would not be available,” said CINDY DAVIDSMEYER, spokeswoman for Senate President EMIL JONES, D-Chicago.
One reason for that is that several of those “several members” will be out of the state working on behalf of presidential candidate BARACK OBAMA. A number of primaries are scheduled Tuesday, including pivotal ones in Texas and Ohio.
Oh well, it’s not like there’s any pressing state business in Illinois.
*Model Illinois Government, where students emulate the activities of the General Assembly, is meeting this weekend at the Capitol.
There was no early word if their session has descended into acrimony and stalemate that would force them to continue meeting for several more weeks.
Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.