profile of Patti Blagojevich in Illinois Issues when I came upon this nugget: In 1983, Patti left home for the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign to major in economics on a legislative scholarship.”

Patti’s father, Richard Mell, was then and remains today the clout-heavy alderman of the 33rd Ward. How lovely that some nice member of our General Assembly gave the Alderman’s daughter a free ride at the state’s top university…">
Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Patti Blagojevich got what?

I was reading a first-rate profile of Patti Blagojevich in Illinois Issues when I came upon this nugget: In 1983, Patti left home for the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign to major in economics on a legislative scholarship.”

Patti’s father, Richard Mell, was then and remains today the clout-heavy alderman of the 33rd Ward. How lovely that some nice member of our General Assembly gave the Alderman’s daughter a free ride at the state’s top university…

Patti Blagojevich on the 2009 season of NBC's I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!
Patti Blagojevich on the 2009 season of NBC’s I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!

I was reading a first-rate profile of Patti Blagojevich in Illinois Issues when I came upon this nugget: In 1983, Patti left home for the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign to major in economics on a legislative scholarship.”

Patti’s father, Richard Mell, was then and remains today the clout-heavy alderman of the 33rd Ward. How lovely that some nice member of our General Assembly gave the Alderman’s daughter a free ride at the state’s top university. The Mells didn’t need the taxpayers to cover Patti’s tuition. Mell proudly told me when I interviewed him in 2003 for a profile of Rod Blagojevich (the man Patti would marry seven years later) that his late wife Margaret had turned the family spring business, R.F. Mell Spring and Manufacturing Co., into quite a successful operation. One of my sources told me that the company, which supplied springs to automakers, had made the Mells millionaires.

Kristy Kennedy, who wrote the Patti profile, told me she tried to discover the identity of the generous-with-our-tax-dollars legislator who gave Patti the scholarship. (Scholarship is a misnomer; these are tuition waivers that require the increasingly poor universities to charge no tuition.) When Kennedy interviewed Mell, he confirmed the gift, but he did not reveal the benefactor’s name. A spokesman for the State Board of Education told Kennedy that it would be too time-consuming to research the case unless she could supply the lawmaker’s name. Back then, “most of the records [weren’t] computerized,” Kennedy told me. (My call to Mell was not returned by post time; the Blagojevich family lawyer, Sheldon Sorosky, said he would relay my interview request to Patti, but no response yet.)

Scholarships—oops, waivers—like the one that benefited the Mells, received a new round of scrutiny and ridicule from editorial writers and good government types in the wake of last year’s nauseating U of I admission scandal uncovered by the Chicago Tribune. Pressure has never been higher to abolish the perk that allows every legislator two four-year tuition waivers to the U of I and other state universities.

In March, the House voted to abolish, but then backtracked and passed a limp bill concocted/choreographed by Senate president John Cullerton. A Tribune editorial beseeched Governor Pat Quinn to veto the bill and to demand that the General Assembly kill this absurd affront to taxpayers. 

For Andy Shaw, Executive Director of the Better Government Association, there is no gray in this picture; he says legislative scholarships should be abolished. “If lawmakers want to help their friends, relatives and political supporters go to college,” Shaw wrote me in an e-mail, “they should be paying for tuition or handing out scholarships from their campaign funds or their personal bank accounts—not with our tax dollars.”

 

NBC photo by Tyler Golden

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4 years ago
Posted by Chicago John

How lovely. I too attended U. of I. in the 1980s, though my decidedly non-millionaire parents told me I'd have to pay my own way if I wanted to do so. The very well-compensated night shift at United Parcel Service loading trucks allowed me to graduate without debt. But had I known freebies like Patti's were to be had, I might have tried loading a something else for college.

4 years ago
Posted by H-bomb

God, that's infuriating. But I guess you can't expect too much from Rod Blagojevich's in-laws.

4 years ago
Posted by Still Here

This is disgusting. Is Illinois the only State in which the legislators openly prey on their constituents?

4 years ago
Posted by WriterOfWrongs

Nice piece of digging, Carol. This the kind of investigative work that can make some of us who are Chicago Mag readers into subscribers. (Which is, frankly, rather surprising given the more routine, more mainstream, more superficial nature of most of the topics touched on in your not really very penetrating or talk-worthy lifestyle mag.) Let's have lots more of this political expose type stuff! We need it! (And, to stay interesting, frankly so do you!) Shades of Pam Zechman and other such!!

4 years ago
Posted by Noodles

And how old are the Blagojeviches' children? Where do they attend school now? Who is paying for their therapy? They must need it.

4 years ago
Posted by Two

It's not surprising the Blagos would be involved in something like that. Or Illinois for that matter. But come on, clean up!

4 years ago
Posted by SOS

The woman who sleeps with Rod Blagojevich was raised by a corrupt politician? Paging Dr. Freud!

4 years ago
Posted by steveweinberg

Fascinating context for a long-running story. Thank you for the insights.

4 years ago
Posted by ritchie

The Blago's have a lot of baggage, hope none will rub off on their daughters when they reach adulthood.

4 years ago
Posted by Orion

A big whoop-dee-doo on this.

If you have this much time on your hands and want to expose waste, trying digging to find out why Ald. Ed Burke gets $1,000,000 worth of Chicago Police Dept. security detail/chauffer/valet service 24/7 when there is a severe manpower shortage in the CPD.
This is current, not something over 10 years old like the Mell/Patti/Scholarship business.

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