Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Lon Monk Back in the Hot Seat—and Back in the Day

Rod Blagojevich wants the jury in his corruption trial to know that Lon Monk, his former BFF, is a turncoat. Blago’s grimaces, eye rolls, and frantic scribbling during Monk’s testimony—not to mention his dagger-eyed stares at his former campaign manager and groomsman—may have been for show, but those who know the former governor know that he once truly loved Lon Monk…

Lon Monk
Lon Monk
Rod Blagojevich wants the jury in his corruption trial to know that Lon Monk, his former BFF, is a turncoat. Blago’s grimaces, eye rolls, and frantic scribbling during Monk’s testimony—not to mention his dagger-eyed stares at his former campaign manager and groomsman—may have been for show, but those who know the former governor know that he once truly loved Lon Monk. Blago’s showstopper of a lawyer, Sam Adam Jr., told the jury so last week. The gov’s now estranged father-in-law, Alderman Richard Mell, told me so in 2003.

Blago, 53, and Monk, 51, became friends the first semester of their second year in law school at Pepperdine, when they signed up for the semester of study in London and lived together at the Cromwell Hotel. Back in Malibu during their second semester, they shared rented rooms in a private house. In a 2003 interview for my Blago profile, Monk told me stories of going with Blago to see Cats at a London theater. In separate interviews, both men remembered going to Piccadilly Circus at 3 a.m. to watch a Tommy Hearns/Sugar Ray Leonard fight live from Las Vegas on closed circuit TV. 

London was the first time abroad for both men, but their backgrounds were vastly different: Monk grew up in Redondo Beach, California, the son of a Beverly Hills physician described by Adam as “a gynecologist to the stars” who kept peacocks in the garden of the family’s home. Blago, meanwhile, according to Adam, grew up battling to keep rats out of his family’s small apartment at Armitage and Cicero.

While his own father had been an exterminator and stoked the furnaces in a steel plant, Rod easily befriended Monk’s father, “and they ran a couple of 10Ks together,” Monk said. “Ultimately my father talked him into running his first marathon.”

Monk said that Blago was never dazzled by southern California—his deepest connection to the place was his unshakable admiration for Richard Nixon. Always intending to return to Chicago, Blago rarely spent time at the beach and showed no interest in surfing. “If he were down with three or four law school students,” Monk said, “you could tell who the city kid was.” He also recalled that Blago would sometimes skip class, engrossed in reading George Trevelyan’s History of England (1926). His other pursuits were also solitary—running and obsessively lifting weights.

In 2001, Monk and his girlfriend and her children went skiing in Colorado with Rod, Patti, and their daughter Amy. (Blago was not much of a skier, Monk said. “He has a little acrophobia.”) It was around then that Blago, bored being the congressman from the 5th District, started talking about running for governor and asked Monk to move Chicago to help him get there.  

Monk said no. He was then working as a sports agent (with clients such as Olympic figure skater Nancy Kerrigan and tennis star Ivan Lendl) and as general counsel for FSX Sports, a sports management company. About two months later, FSX was sold to Clear Channel Communications and Monk was asked to move to New York. He declined and called Blago instead.

Monk joined Rod’s congressional staff as legal counsel, and one of his first tasks was to help Rod find a campaign manager for the coming gubernatorial race. “We interviewed a lot of people,” Monk recalled. “With the experience of having gone through campaigns, Rod knew that he really had to click with the campaign manager.” Eventually, he offered the job to Monk, who pointed out he had no political experience. “[Rod] was very quick to say it didn’t matter,” Monk said. “He said, ‘I need someone to come in, manage a few people, and deal with the finances.’” 

With Blago’s victory came Monk’s promotion to chief of staff—as well as running partner. The two often ran eight-minute miles from Blago’s house at 2934 W. Sunnyside to Wrigley Field and back.

After Rod was re-elected in 2006, Monk left to become a lobbyist—“Lobbyist #1” in the criminal complaint against the gov. Today, Monk is unemployed, living in Decatur, and, if all goes well with the feds, facing two years in prison.

A far cry from those days at the beach in Malibu.

 

Photograph: Chicago Tribune

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