Blagojevich often MIA, aides say
Deputy governor testifies that it was hard to find governor and get him to do day-to-day tasks like signing or vetoing bills
Former Deputy Gov. Robert Greenlee testified that he had to corner Blagojevich at Southport Lanes, where he was having dinner with his family, to get the governor to review several pending measures. (Abel Uribe, Chicago Tribune / July 6, 2010)
"I (expletive) busted my ass and pissed people off and gave your grandmother a free (expletive) ride on a bus. OK? I gave your (expletive) baby a chance to have health care," Blagojevich ranted. "And what do I get for that?" he continued, "Only 13 percent of you all out there think I'm doing a good job. So (expletive) all of you."
However Blagojevich perceived himself, wiretap and witness accounts from several close advisers portray the former governor as the antithesis of a dedicated, hard-driving public servant.
As former Deputy Gov. Robert Greenlee explained it, Blagojevich spent most of his time at home and showed up no more than two to eight hours a week at his government headquarters. When there, Greenlee said, the governor was known to hide in the bathroom or his office to avoid confronting those who tried to discuss difficult policy problems such as the state budget.
After former Reagan administration Labor Secretary Raymond Donovan was acquitted in 1987 on fraud and larceny charges, he famously asked: "Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?"
That could be a very hard question for Blagojevich to repeat — with a straight face, at least — even if jurors ultimately vote to find him not guilty. Former top aides such as Greenlee have painted Blagojevich as conniving, insincere, potty-mouthed, erratic, resentful of political foes and allies, unwilling to hear criticism and deeply inattentive to the nuts-and-bolts responsibilities of his job.
Greenlee said he would often have to "capture" Blagojevich in a car or plane so he could be pinned down "when he had nothing else to do," Greenlee said.
Once, Greenlee said, he had to impose himself on a Blagojevich family dinner at Southport Lanes in order to get the governor to make needed decisions on bills that had passed the General Assembly and were awaiting his veto or signature. At that dinner, with the governor's wife and children in tow, Greenlee said he forced Blagojevich to sit still to review 20 pending measures.
"Southport Lanes?" asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar. "Is that a bowling alley?"
"It's a bowling alley/bar and grill," Greenlee said.
Greenlee's testimony echoed that of other top Blagojevich aides who earlier testified that they found the governor to be cavalier about his official responsibilities and quite willing to use powers for personal and political benefit.
Bradley Tusk, who was hired on as deputy governor shortly after Blagojevich assumed office in 2003, said Blagojevich quickly grew detached from his duties and was rarely around to make crucial decisions — and that Tusk once had to hunt down the governor at his tailor. Tusk said the call was often left to him on whether to sign or veto legislation.
Greenlee's testimony also was consistent with aides who have testified that they were sometimes afraid to speak their minds to Blagojevich for fear he would just cut them off. The governor had an "in and out" view of the world, Greenlee said, meaning that those who disagreed with him too often would find themselves "out" and unable to get him on the phone.
Former chief of staff John Harris testified last month that he, too, came to learn that he had to placate Blagojevich to survive.
On one call played Thursday, Blagojevich ranted about adviser Doug Scofield for throwing cold water on the idea that Blagojevich might appoint himself to fill Barack Obama's Senate seat. "I can't stand that (expletive) attitude," complained Blagojevich.
Greenlee told the jury that being cut off from the governor would have made his job dealing with policy and pending legislation all but impossible, so he was willing to ride out some of the governor's more volatile moments by agreeing with him even on harebrained ideas.
One of those was an alleged Blagojevich plan to hold hostage state-financing help for the Tribune Co.'s sale of Wrigley Field unless the firm fired editorial writers at the Chicago Tribune who had blistered the governor in print.
The jury on Thursday heard a November 2008 call in which Greenlee told Blagojevich and his wife, Patti, about negative editorials the paper had written suggesting it was time for the legislature to study impeachment.
"Tell him to hold up that (expletive) Cubs (expletive). (Expletive) them. (Expletive) them," Patti Blagojevich shouted in the background. "Why should you do anything for those (expletives)? (Tribune owner) Sam Zell. What kind of (expletive) is that?"