On the first day of his trial, Rod Blagojevich encountered two students from Chicago’s John Marshall Law School. When the students approached Blago to introduce themselves, he “shook their hands and told them that he once tried to enroll at their school,” according to Stacy St. Clair’s report in the Chicago Tribune. “‘I applied there on Monday and was rejected Tuesday…. That’s why I’m not defending myself.’”
Not true, I thought. In the summer of 2003, shortly after he became governor, I interviewed him for a profile in this magazine. According to the transcripts, he told me then that he had applied unsuccessfully to the law schools at Harvard, the University of Chicago, and Northwestern (where he had gone to college after transferring from the University of Tampa). Sitting in his expansive suite of offices in the State of Illinois Building, he laughed off the rejections. But at a time when serious people discussed the possibility of his being on the national ticket, I sensed he still felt the sting.
I asked him why he ended up going to law school at Pepperdine in Malibu, California, and he replied, “Under the circumstances, why not get away and get more life experience? John Marshall and Kent, I felt that was like me staying in the neighborhood.”
Later in the interview, he admitted easily to me that he failed the bar exam the first time. To make certain he passed the second time, he “snuck into” the Harper Library at the University of Chicago to study—all day, everyday. Hyde Park was an interesting destination for a boy living at home with his parents on the Northwest Side, but he explained he liked “the ambience, Gothic, history books.”
So did Blago really apply to John Marshall—probably the easiest admit of the city’s law schools—and get rejected? As I re-read the transcript now, I am certain—as I was during the interview—that he meant he did not apply there at all because it was just too local.
A call to the school’s public information chief was met with a curt, “We have no comment."
But if he did not apply, then why would he tell those students that he had been rejected from their school? Why is he always attempting to ingratiate himself in this way? Perhaps he believes that coming off as just another guy from the neighborhood will help him with the jury pool and—down the road, if necessary—with an appeal. Also, as more than one of his friends told me in 2003, he attributes his success to being patronized as just another nice head of hair. “He doesn’t mind when people underestimate him because he knows he’s smart,” said Carol Ronen, his colleague in the Illinois House and later a close adviser.
And, apparently, he doesn’t mind lying a little when it serves his purpose.
Photography: AP Photo/Seth Perlman