As a candidate and as governor, Rod Blagojevich loved to toss around the word "corrupt" as he heaped scorn on the business-as-usual nature of Illinois politics. So his reaction to the 2006 conviction of his predecessor, George Ryan, was totally in character.
"Today's verdict proves that no one is above the law," Blagojevich declared at the time. "And just as important, it proves that government is supposed to exist for the good of the people, not the other way around, and certainly not for the personal enrichment of those who hold public office."
In a profound way, Illinois' only impeached governor has now been forced to eat those sentiments, which federal prosecutors implored jurors to recall before they voted last week to find Blagojevich guilty of sweeping corruption of his own.
Blagojevich has long been a blur of contradictions whose deeds belied his words with stunning regularity.
As a state lawmaker and then congressman, he became known for little else than his advocacy of strong gun controls. But that reputation nearly cost him the Democratic nomination for governor in 2002, so once in office and able to act on his passion, he instead avoided it like a poisonous snake.
As governor, he vocally opposed any general tax hikes and laid claim to being a frugal steward of the public purse. In reality, the state budget deficit more than doubled under Blagojevich's watch, while he allowed his personal finances to become a shambles as well.
Blagojevich fancied himself a model of ethical probity, vowing at his first inaugural to clean up state government and declaring mission accomplished at his second swearing-in.
Yet prosecutors contended Blagojevich conspired from the first to profit from his official powers, and he was convicted at his first trial last summer of trying to mislead the FBI about the intersection of political fundraising and official action under his watch.
Blagojevich was hardly the first Illinois leader gone bad, but the tale of his stunning fall departs sharply from those of crooked past governors such as Ryan or Otto Kerner, insiders who succumbed to greed.
Both politically and personally, Blagojevich was a misfit done in by profound insecurities and shortcomings.
It clearly wasn't his intention, but Blagojevich filled in the edges of that portrait as he took the witness stand late last month to testify at his corruption retrial.
The child of working-class immigrants, Blagojevich grew up modestly on the Northwest Side in the shadow of his more athletic older brother, Robert, whose hopes of playing baseball at a Florida university were thwarted by injury.
The future governor, on the other hand, was a so-so student who flunked drafting, flopped at Little League and dreamed of playing pro basketball but couldn't make it as a starter on teams at two city high schools. He followed his brother to college in Florida but transferred to Northwestern University, where he felt like an outsider among classmates who largely had more money and social advantages.
He nearly washed out of law school in California but leveraged connections after graduation to land a job at the Cook County state's attorney's office. During his trial, Blagojevich played up his experience as a prosecutor, but what he didn't say was that most of it was spent in traffic court at the bottom rung of government law.
What Blagojevich was possessed of was a glib tongue and an ability to charm, a skill set made for politics. But his big break hardly fits with Blagojevich's up-from-the-bootstraps self-image: in essence, he married the boss's daughter.
Ald. Richard Mell, 33rd, not only made Blagojevich's political career, but played a critical role in breaking it as well. Blagojevich chafed under his dependence on Mell, eventually leading to an ugly split that piqued the interest of investigators when Mell charged that a price tag had been hung on state posts by a key Blagojevich insider.
Blagojevich had begun doing political odd jobs for Mell after he met the alderman's daughter, Patti, at a 1988 political fundraiser.
"If her dad liked me, I had a better shot with Patti," Blagojevich explained during his testimony.
Mell used his considerable power as a Democratic ward committeeman to arrange the election of his son-in-law first to the Illinois House, then the U.S. House.
Blagojevich struggled with credibility long before his conviction
Traits that led to precipitous fall were evident early on
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