Billed as his last public statement before heading off to prison, Rod Blagojevich said this afternoon he was "honored" to serve as governor of Illinois and thanked the people of the state as he began his "dark and hard journey."
Interrupted several times by chants of "Free our governor," Blagojevich insisted before a crush of reporters and supporters that everything he did "was on the right side of the law."
Blagojevich was led into the crowd in front of his Ravenswood Manor home by his wife Patti. He wore a dark suit coat and an open-collared blue checked shirt.
The ousted governor began by telling reporters, "God bless you." Toward the end of his speech, he said that he "has had many blessings in my life and it's not over."
Blagojevich said going to prison on corruption charges will be “hardest thing I've ever had to do.” But he added, "We are appealing the case. This is not over. We have faith in the future, faith in the rule of law. . .I'll see you again."
Blagojevich finished his speech in about 15 minutes, but continued to talk to reporters as he walked up the steps of his home, occasionally signing autographs for supporters.
The former governor said he hoped he would be an example to his daughters "if they see how their dad faces something like this."
He said he had been "reading more things in religion, the Old Testament and the New Testament" to see how people faced adversity. "It's a work in progress," he said, and added that he hopes to "get stronger. . .learn from this. . .and serve a higher purpose later on."
Asked if he was scared, he said: "They don't call it courage if you're not scared."
The 55-year-old Democrat is due to report to a prison in Colorado on Thursday to begin serving a 14-year sentence, making him the second Illinois governor in a row to go to prison for corruption.
Blagojevich timed his departing statement to begin at precisely 5:02 p.m. so it could appear live on the evening news. His publicist even planned to give a two-minute warning via Twitter so newscasts could be ready.
Hours before the appointed time, at least 15 TV vans lined the blocks around the former governor's home in Ravenswood Manor, with news crews and photographers milling on the parkways amid a forest of tripods and cameras.
Twice, rumors Rod Blagojevich had stepped out a back door sent the press mob darting like a school of fish. "Instead of everybody running, why don't we have some lookouts," said an exasperated camera man after jogging back to the alley for a second time.
Handmade banners hung from the railing on the porch. One read, "THANKS MR GOVERNOR WE WILL PRAY", surrounded by scribbled signatures from supporters. A smaller sign read, "leniency for Gov Rod!!! Call the whitehouse 1-202-456-1111"
A steady stream of pedestrians, enjoying the summer-like day, paused and looked at the signs.
A little before 4 p.m. Blagojevich returned home with his youngest daughter, prompting the media to crowd outside the white Cadillac that dropped him off.
Blagojevich, with lead-blocking from a private security guard, parted the crowd to walk with his daughter to his front steps, telling reporters only "I'll talk to you all at five o'clock," as he made his way along the sidewalk.
He paused on the porch, reaching over the railing where the "Thanks Mr. Governor" banner flapped to shake hands with a supporter.
Laura Royer has watched the media scrums outside the Blagojevich house since she moved to the neighborhood in 2004. Though she lives two blocks away, Wednesday was the first time she has stopped to watch.
"I figured it would be the last time, and it was a nice day," said Royer, 33, as she stood across the street with her friend, Will Ross. "I tried not to watch him... I didn't want him to profit from what he did."
"Really, if they were filming that awful Transformers movie today, we would probably be watching that. It's something to see," said Ross. "It's like a public execution."
Since his sentencing in December, the impeached governor hasn't spoken in interviews or addressed the media corps following every step of his legal saga. His attorneys said he wanted to depart in a dignified way, without a media frenzy.
That fueled speculation he'd try to slip out of Chicago undetected, but his spokesman said Blagojevich never entertained that idea.
Blagojevich was convicted of 18 criminal counts over two trials, including charges that accused him of attempting to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.
Prison authorities haven't confirmed where Blagojevich will be imprisoned. But he asked to go to the Federal Correctional Institution Englewood, in suburban Denver, and that's where he's expected to report by 2 p.m. Thursday. Blagojevich's predecessor, George Ryan, is serving a 6 1/2 -year sentence in a Terre Haute, Ind., prison.
Blagojevich apologized for his actions at his sentencing in December, but also has said he would appeal his convictions.
Federal agents arrested the then-governor at his home on Dec. 9, 2008. When an FBI official called to tell Blagojevich agents were at his door to arrest him, he reportedly responded in disbelief, “Is this a joke?”
After his arrest, Blagojevich hit the talk-show circuit to declare his innocence and to rail against prosecutors, even appearing on Donald Trump's reality show, “The Apprentice.”
Blagojevich took the witnesses stand at his retrial, telling jurors that his talk about selling Obama's seat was just that — talk.
In the end, though, it did him little good. His first trial in 2011 ended with jurors deadlocked on all but one count. The next year, jurors were more decisive — convicting Blagojevich on 17 of 20 counts.
In Colorado, Blagojevich — whose penchant for expensive suits and lavish spending were outlined at his first trial — will have no luxuries.
The prison complex is encircled by double, razor-wire fencing and is well-guarded. Inside, Blagojevich's life will be strictly regimented: he must wake at dawn, work a menial prison job eight hours a day and submit to head counts at all hours of the day.
Contributing: Associated PressCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun