Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Don’t Believe What You Heard Yesterday at Blago’s Trial: Bradley Tusk Had a Crony Sponsor

Bradley Tusk, who served as deputy governor during Rod Blagojevich’s first term, was in the hot seat yesterday at the former gov’s corruption trial. I met Tusk, then 30, while interviewing Blago in 2003, and I continued to follow his career because he seemed like such an anomaly in the administration: a young man hired for his abilities rather than his…

Bradley Tusk
Bradley Tusk
Bradley Tusk, who served as deputy governor during Rod Blagojevich’s first term, was in the hot seat yesterday at the former gov’s corruption trial. I met Tusk, then 30, while interviewing Blago in 2003, and I continued to follow his career because he seemed like such an anomaly in the administration: a young man hired for his abilities rather than his connections.

Before coming to Chicago in 2003, Tusk had already worked for five years as a senior advisor to the commissioner of the New York City Parks Department, two years as a communications director for New York Senator Charles Schumer, and one year as a special assistant to NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

In court yesterday, one of Blago’s lawyers, Sheldon Sorosky, portrayed Tusk as a smart hire—intelligent and free of sordid connections—and not a product of the old Chicago school of “We don’t want nobody that nobody sent.” On the stand, Tusk agreed with Sorosky that he had no “local political sponsor.” 

Not true. In fact, the person who sent Tusk was none other than Blago buddy John Wyma—Blago’s chief of staff when he was congressman, political director during the campaign, and transition adviser after Blago won election in 2002. Wyma, whom I interviewed in 2003, used his Blago connections to become a powerful lobbyist in Springfield with such clients as ComEd, Philip Morris, ATT Illlinois, and Upjohn. He launched his lobbying business a couple of months after Blago took office. 

Earlier in his career, Wyma had been chief of staff to Schumer—at the same time Tusk served as the senator’s communication director. In his detailed 2009 Village Voice piece on Tusk, Wayne Barrett identifies Wyma as Tusk’s longtime friend and sponsor.” Barrett wrote: “By Tusk’s own account, it was Wyma who first introduced him to Blagojevich in 2001 in a Washington restaurant… and persuaded Blagojevich to hire Tusk as a 29-year-old Deputy Governor, an odd pathway to power for a supposedly ‘good-government’ recruit.”

And, later, in October 2008—two months before Blago was arrested—it was Wyma who started talking to the feds. According to the Sun-Times’ Abdon M. Pallasch, Wyma “brought evidence to the feds in October that blew open the case,” giving them what they need to install the wiretaps on Blago’s phones. (Wyma is  “Individual A” in the feds’ case against Blago.)

The canny Tusk, however, knew just when to get out of Chicago. He left in late 2006, returning to New York to become senior vice president (read: in-house lobbyist) at Lehman Brothers, which, according to the Village Voice’s Barrett, was a client of Wyma’s. Then, in 2008, after leaving Lehman—good timing yet again—Tusk returned to Mayor Bloomberg’s staff as manager of his re-election campaign. In January 2010, the New York Times’ Michael Barbaro reported that Tusk was among Bloomberg’s top aides who received a bonus on top of salary of “at least $400,000 (His salary was $315,865; Blago made $177,000 as governor.)

Today, Tusk is a political consultant in New York. Attempts to reach him for comment were unsuccessful.  

 

Photograph: Chicago Tribune

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