Mr. Un-Popularity

From our February 2008 issue: Rod Blagojevich was something of a golden boy when he became the governor of Illinois—a young, charismatic champion of change with powerful backers and presidential aspirations. Now he may be the most unpopular governor in the country. A look at how things fell so completely apart

(page 1 of 9)

Early on the January morning on which Rod Blagojevich was first sworn in as the 40th governor of Illinois, his father-in-law, the powerful Northwest Side alderman Richard Mell, was still hard at work on behalf of his protégé. In Springfield for the ceremony, Mell happened to spot his own picture on the front of a local weekly newspaper. The bold headline read: “The Governor in Law.”

Mell knew this could be trouble. “I went to every damn little store in Springfield I could see that had those things and scooped them in my trunk, ‘cause I knew that shit would drive him crazy,” Mell recalls. “Rod wanted everyone to think he got there on his own.”

RELATED ITEMS

GOVERNOR SUNSHINE >>
From our November 2003 issue: When things were going well for Rod Blagojevich

In fact, Mell had been widely credited as the chief architect of the Blagojevich campaign that ended in victory over Republican Jim Ryan, the state attorney general, in 2002. Early on, Mell pushed Blagojevich to amass a huge campaign war chest to scare off potential primary challengers. Then the alderman shrewdly predicted that Blagojevich’s strength lay Downstate and helped recruit Downstate party chairmen to support his son-in-law’s candidacy. Blagojevich ended up winning 55 percent of the Downstate primary vote, enough to squeak out a thin victory.

Mell insists that he largely kept his big ego in check during the campaign, but in the aftermath of the November election, he began to feel as if he were getting the cold shoulder from Blagojevich. His phone calls weren’t returned. He was left out of meetings. His nominees for state jobs got rejected. His advice was ignored.

Tempers flared outright a couple of months into Blagojevich’s term, over something seemingly trivial: office stationery. Mell’s office had printed Blagojevich’s name on the alderman’s 33rd Ward letterhead, an inappropriate link to the governor. Blagojevich was furious, but instead of calling Mell, he ordered one of his close advisers, Christopher Kelly, to handle it. Mell says Kelly summoned him to the East Bank Club and announced: “The governor’s really pissed off.” Asked why, Kelly shot back: “The stationery—it’s got his name on it!”

Recalling the incident today, Mell grows animated, and his voice rises: “He sends that asshole Kelly to reprimand me about stationery! He’s my son-in-law—pick up the goddamn telephone and call me.” Adding to Mell’s sense of insult, the governor’s office sent him a cease-and-desist letter. (Attempts to reach Kelly were unsuccessful.)

The breaking point in the deteriorating relationship between Mell and Blagojevich came several months later, in January 2005, after the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency—acting on Blagojevich’s orders—temporarily shut down a Joliet landfill operated by Frank Schmidt, a distant cousin of Mell’s wife, Margaret. The governor’s office claimed it had acted after Blagojevich overheard at a family Christmas Eve dinner that Schmidt had been boasting to waste haulers that he had clout with the governor and Mell, and hence the haulers could dump illegal debris at his site without scrutiny from regulators. Schmidt denies saying any such thing. (A Cook County grand jury has been investigating whether Blagojevich’s administration abused its authority when it closed Schmidt’s landfill.)

Mell was vacationing with his wife in Florida when he got word about the landfill. “I’m just incensed this guy does this to me,” says Mell, who insists he had no financial stake in the landfill but was advising Schmidt. “[Blagojevich] throws me under the bus like that, puts me on the front page of the papers. That son of a bitch used me. He uses everybody and then discards ’em.”

 

Photoillustration: VibraCobradesign
Photography: (Dartboard) Jan Stromme/Getty Images, (Blagojevich) Jeff Sciortino

Share

Advertisement

comments
6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

anyone who knows Rod knows he's a fraud. It's a shame but mark my words, the Feds will get him.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Excellent piece that sums up the horror that is our infamous governor. Narsissistic, sociopathic, remorseless bully just about sums it up. It might have been different if he had the brain power and business smarts to back up his ego but he's an empty balloon. If he was smarter, he would resign and save his children the embarrassment of seeing their father do the perp walk. But the stroking of his ego takes precident over all else.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

I'd like to recommend a sports related process to the solution of the problems of Governor Rod. My wife and I recently moved back to Illinois after living for 28 years in New Jersey. New Jersey has an excellent Democratic Governor, John Corzine, an Illinois native (Talorville area). How about a trade, Blago for Corzine. We could throw in a supply of Vienna Beef hot dogs or whatever it would take to seal the deal. New Jersey is as comfotable as Illinois with flakes and corruption so I think this is a deal that could definitely be done.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Sounds like a fair trade to me!

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

anyone with a manicured pompador should NOT hold public office

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

I thought that part of the job description of the Governor of Illinois was that you had to do time in the "slammer" once you were out of office. It would appear ol' Rod is going to carry on the tradition.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

I thought that part of the job description for the Governor of Illinois was that you had to serve time in the "slammer" after you were out of office. It would appear that ol' Rod will be carrying on that tradtion.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

The Governor of Illinois is a prince compared to the idiot who is running Wisconsin. Jim Doyle takes millions of illegal donations to help him make decisions, is "in bed with" any Indian who wants a new casino and the teachers union, stated that he would raises taxes then raises every fee in the state, wants to tax every business out of the state, has a desire to force "universal health care" on Wisconsin taxpayers, etc...

Count your blessings you don't have Jim Doyle as your Governor.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Definition for Narsissistic is Rod Blagojevich,

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

How prophetic must the author of the 1st anonymous post feel after this exciting morning?

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

From outside the state looking in - why on earth do you people keep electing candidates like this???

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

It's not our fault, we try to elect people with back-bone and spine. . . it just so happens that their spine grew in crooked.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

>Dec 9, 2008 01:33 pm
>Posted by Anonymous
>
>From outside the state looking in - why on earth do you people keep >electing candidates like this???

And from what fine state are you from? No skeletons there?

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

"why on earth do you people keep electing candidates like this???"

I for one did not elect this man, I'd have voted for a statue made of horse poop before I'd have voted for him. Both times.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

At least, congratulations are in order: You're going to be rid of him.

Now, let's hope he doesn't name himself Senator from his jail cell...

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

"From outside the state looking in - why on earth do you people keep electing candidates like this???"

They elected this asno and we elected Obama!

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

It is too bad that our rulers are so corrupt.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Anybody or entity can give any amount to anyone running for this office. No limits! On Jan 1, state contractors will have limits, but not anyone else. How corrupting must this be? We have to determine to get this law changed, for starters.

Wow, what a psycho. Thank God for Pat Quinn, and especially for US Attorney Pat Fitzgerald. Obama better not even THINK of taking him out.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Is Blagojevich a Democrat or a Republican?

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

>Is Blagojevich a Democrat or a Republican?

He's a democrat

Submit your comment