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Blagojevich’s résumé failed to draw promising responses from Chicago law firms, but an acquaintance of his father’s had a little steel company on the South Side and lived in Ed Vrdolyak’s Tenth Ward. A job offer as a clerk in Vrydolyak’s law practice eventually followed, and this time there was no professor to deter him. (Whether it was part of the deal or not, Rade ended up doing campaign work for Vrdolyak.) Having yet to take the bar exam, Blagojevich did a lot of photocopying. When he failed the exam, he quit his job and developed a seven-days-a-week routine-up early in his parents’ apartment, drive to the University of Chicago’s Harper Library (he liked its ambiance), and study until nine at night. He passed in February 1984.
None of the offers that Blagojevich had hoped for panned out, so he ended up in another clerk’s job, this time for the Attorneys’ Title Guaranty Fund. He found work with a couple of small firms and began renting a room in the LaSalle Street offices of Sheldon Sorosky, a criminal lawyer, and his partner, James Kaplan, who handled workmen’s compensation cases.
In early 1986, through Danny Angarola’s brother, who was first assistant to then state’s attorney Richard M. Daley, Blagojevich got hired to try traffic cases in the old traffic court building on North LaSalle Street. It was not glamorous work. Curt James, Blagojevich’s trial partner, says many beginning attorneys are “dumped” in traffic court, where they are on their feet all day, sharing a desk and an office. James, who still works for the state’s attorney, says he was impressed by Blagojevich’s energy and his “ease with talking to everyone-judges, public defenders, victims, and defendants.” John Budin, Blagojevich’s supervisor, says the future governor was “so outgoing, that if he were a woman, I’d call him vivacious.”
One assumes that Blagojevich never really wanted to be a prosecutor and used the job as a résumé filler until he could move on. But not everyone was critical of that quality. “You knew he was going places,” says John Lagattuta, another traffic court prosecutor. “He was a mover and shaker; never stood still.” One Friday after work, Blagojevich confided to John Budin his ambition to be President of the United States.
Blagojevich continued his private practice on the side-house closings, probate work, small-bore matters that assistant state’s attorneys are allowed to handle as long as they avoid conflicts of interest.
Blagojevich was eventually transferred to the courts at 51st and Wentworth, near the Robert Taylor Homes, where he handled some hard and depressing criminal cases. After barely two years as a prosecutor-the position, he now admits, was a steppingstone-Blagojevich resigned to take a job as an associate with Sorosky and Kaplan, handling workmen’s compensation cases, a low-prestige, nuts-and-bolts practice. Five months later, he went out on his own. “Rod wanted to be more creative,” says Sorosky.
In February 1988, Blagojevich’s father suffered a massive stroke. Rade would live another ten months, but he was severely damaged and never went home again. His father’s horrific condition shocked Blagojevich into thinking about the future, and the 31-year-old bachelor had politics on his mind in March that year when he attended a fundraiser for Alderman Richard Mell. Walking into Zum Deutschen Eck, a German restaurant on Southport Avenue, Blagojevich spotted the alderman’s pretty 23-year-old daughter, barely a year out of the University of Illinois with a degree in economics. Having broken up with her boyfriend, she had been moping around the Mell house and working at the spring company that her father had started in his garage (it had made him a millionaire several times over). “If you go out with me, I’m going to show you the time of your life,” Blagojevich promised her.