Robert BlagojevichThe Blagojevich defense opened its case Monday with the ex-gov’s older-by-16-months brother, Robert Blagojevich, testifying on behalf of Rod (and also himself—Rob is the alleged middle man in the plot to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat). Rob, 54, said on the stand that the siblings were close growing up, but they drifted apart as adults.
In 2003, when I interviewed him for a profile on his then-governor brother, Rob described a “close relationship. I can call him anytime and get ahold of him.” Back then, Rob was an executive with the Fifth Third Bank and living in Nashville with his wife, Julie. Below is what I learned about Rob, Julie (who also was on the witness stand Monday), and their son, Alex—who was in court with his arm protectively around his mother, according to the Sun-Times’s Sarah Ostman.
1. Growing up, Rob and his brother were exceedingly close, sharing a bedroom until the elder sibling left for college. As boys, they were mischievous; they would “throw snowballs at CTA buses, knock on doors and run.” They also defaced with chalk a Pentecostal church near their boyhood five-room apartment at 1925 N. Lacrosse. “Nothing vulgar,” Rob said, and their father made them clean it off with buckets and brushes. Rob then described himself and his brother as “straight, serious-minded guys, sports driven.” They “kept out of trouble; off the street; never out chasing girls, pot, drugs, temptations like that. There were temptations, but we never, ever succumbed.”
2. Rob graduated in the last all-male class at Lane Tech in 1973. Rod followed his brother to Lane but transferred to Foreman after two years, when he failed to make the Lane basketball team. Rob was the more talented athlete of the two; he could play any sport well, friends said. At Lane, Rob played varsity football, basketball, and baseball. He chose the University of Tampa for college because it was “a hotbed for baseball” and played catcher until he blew out his arm. Rod followed him to the University of Tampa—“Our parents decided it would be a good thing to keep us together,” Rob explained—but later transferred to Northwestern. Rod told me when I interviewed him in 2003, “I’d have likely gone wherever [Rob] went.”
3. The boys’ father saw a military career for Rob—who fulfilled that wish by joining the Army and later the Army Reserves—and a law career for Rod.
4. When I spoke to Rob in 2003, he was raising money—not for his brother, but for the Red Cross. He told me about his father and uncle spending four years in a German POW camp during the war, that the Nazis malnourished them but did not starve them, and that things were made tolerable for them by the International Red Cross, which sent packets of food, sewing kits, and other supplies. “That’s why I’ve become active in the Red Cross,” he said.
5. His father was a “proud Republican,” and Rob told me that he was, too. He said he had voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and planned to vote for him in 2004.
6. When Rod and Patti married in 1990, Rob was his best man, and his wife, Julie sang at the wedding “with her operatic voice.” Julie Blago had been “Miss Brandon” (a Tampa suburb) and had competed for the title of Miss Florida. While the family lived in Nashville, she worked in the budget department of the Vanderbilt University Library.
7. The couple raised their son in Nashville and then in Tampa, where Alex went to high school. He was recruited to play baseball for the University of Pennsylvania, and graduated from the school in 2005.
8. Late Monday afternoon, I reached Alex—who now lives in Chicago and works for real estate investment firm Marcus & Millichap—to confirm some of these facts. He told me that for a few weeks one summer during high school, he interned for then-congressman Rod. Alex later traveled with his uncle downstate while Rod was campaigning for governor. He added that he prefers not to talk about his relationship with his uncle and aunt. And, no, he does not have the political bug—and doesn’t expect ever to get it.
Photograph: Chicago Tribune