If the first trial had a certain excitement and air of unpredictability, Monday’s edition of the retrial seemed just worn and wan—much like the defendant.
Still, there was a special poignancy because while Blago II droned on at the federal courthouse on Jackson and Dearborn, some blocks east and north at Millennium Park, Rahm Emanuel—“that little [expletive]” in Blago’s taped words—was being inaugurated as mayor, and touted (for the time being at least) as a superstar of unlimited potential.
And there was Blago, who once, back after he was first elected governor in 2002, seemed to have at least some of that potential. Now on a cool but sunny day—a perfect day for running (which he used to do a lot of, on the taxpayers’ dime)—Blago had to sit still for hours while two of the guys in the hot seat on Monday afternoon made him look like a selfish jerk.
Children’s Memorial Hospital CEO Patrick Magoon and construction company exec Gerald Krozel testified that Blago expected them to raise money for him, and both feared that if they didn’t, they wouldn’t get what they wanted: a $6 billion tollway construction bill for Krozel and, for Magoon, higher Medicaid reimbursements from the state that helps Children’s afford its roster of esteemed pediatric specialists.
Our impeached gov looked almost bored during the proceedings, his hands folded most of the time, not taking many notes. He perked up when former Cubs manager Dusty Baker’s name was mentioned in connection with Blago’s alleged scheme to link money for the hospital to money for his campaign fund. (Baker was the point man in securing the money for the hospital without fundraising strings attached.)
U.S. District Judge James Zagel continued to sustain scores of prosecution objections to defense lawyers’ questioning. (These days, Sheldon Sorosky and Aaron Goldstein can barely get a sentence out without a prosecutor popping up to cry “objection!”) At one point, Zagel pleaded with Sorosky, “Please stop,” and at another, “Don’t even ask.” The prosecutors faced few objections from the defense. Sorosky, so skinny nowadays that he is constantly hitching up his suit pants, often turned to face the spectators’ benches as he speaks. One would think if he won’t look at the witness and the judge, he’d face the jury.
Then again, the jury didn’t seem very interested, either; one young man had trouble staying awake.
Outside the courtroom after a break, Blago enthusiastically worked the visitors’ line, borrowing my pen to autograph day passes. When I show him my blog post yesterday about Indiana’s First Lady Cheri Daniels, who is the granddaughter of a baseball Hall of Famer Billy Herman, he immediately said, “Billy Herman—played for the Cubs and the Brooklyn Dodgers.”
One court watcher, Floyd Johnson, a retired pilot and a Republican who did not vote for Blago, told me he comes to court regularly from his home in Glen Ellyn. He was a regular at the first trial, and he has attended about half of the retrial sessions. When he skips court, it’s usually to play golf. Johnson told me that the government, having streamlined its case, is doing a much better job the second time around. When I ask him about the defense, he said, “No comment,” but added, “It’s like pulling teeth to get them to ask the right questions.” I chatted with another court watcher inside the courtroom; it was his first time attending the trial—he decided to come down because he’s having a new roof put on his house and he can’t stand the hammering. He, too, was from Glen Ellyn.
Blago was still sporting one of his Oxxford suits, but even it looked worn. His hair remained full and lustrous—but it appeared incongruous against his pale and aging complexion. A woman seated near me said there’s a running debate among court watchers about whether Blago dyes his hair. The consensus is that he does, and that it’s odd he doesn’t even have a strand of gray—not even around the temples.
Of course, I had to find out, so I called Blago’s barber. Peter Vodovoz, of Mr. Barber of Chicago, told me that while he does not dye Blago’s hair—“We don’t do any color in our shop”—the former gov “probably does—it would be very unusual to have such dark hair at his age." Vodovoz, whose barbershop is on East Walton, has been cutting Blago’s hair for 20 years and called him "a gentleman."
Photograph: Chicago Tribune