Brown: Blagojevich’s mane not the only gray area

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In this Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016 courtroom sketch, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, right, appears via video from a Colorado prison during his re-sentencing in a federal courtroom in Chicago. (AP Photo/Tom Gianni)

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His hair is still magnificent.

I hadn’t expected that to be so, figured instead that a head full of silver would somehow diminish Rod Blagojevich.

But the U.S. Bureau of Prisons has done our former governor a favor by forcing him to go gray, the natural color imputing a maturity his dye job never allowed.

Imagine the exact same meticulously-coiffed moptop mane that you know so well, a veritable helmet of hair, only now of a color more befitting a U.S. senator.

Coupled with the words spoken Tuesday in U.S. District Judge James Zagel’s courtroom, the change was just enough to make me think about how the man appearing on a video feed from a Colorado prison camp is neither the cartoon character he presented to the public nor the one we created for him.


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For as much as we think we know about him, Rod Blagojevich is still very much a man out of focus — the word focus also applying literally in this instance because technical difficulties meant that those sitting in the courtroom were presented with a blurred image of the former governor.

It was like what happens at home when the digital cable goes on the fritz, or sun spots ruin the satellite feed.

One second his hair would be in focus, then his eyes or mouth, the blotchy picture changing constantly, never the whole person in focus at the same time. The audio was also garbled, making it difficult to hear him.

The arguments presented in court about whether to reduce Blagojevich’s 14-year sentence were much in the same vein, his character in personality flashing in and out of focus.

His lawyers presented the picture of Good Rod, a “changed man” who has lost his arrogance and anger while becoming a model prisoner who tries to help and inspire his fellow inmates do the same. Federal prosecutors depicted Bad Rod, the same old operator who still hasn’t specifically admitted the crimes that he still hopes the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn now that his resentencing is complete.

In between came an earnest speech from Blagojevich, sounding genuinely contrite for the first time that I can remember, even if the words were carefully chosen.

It struck me then that while he may not yet be a changed man, he may indeed be a changing man, humbled by his circumstances in a way that only prison can.

But it was also a reminder that the caricatures of the crooked politician and the good politician who truly did want to help people were never mutually exclusive.

Before the hearing, most of the reporters at the courthouse figured Zagel would shave a year off Blagojevich’s sentence, two years tops, in a nod to the federal appeals court that knocked out some of the charges on which he was convicted.

Or if nothing else, out of pity for his family, whose impassioned plea to allow him to come home now was never going to fly.

In the end, Zagel said he got the sentence right the first time, and I can see why he thinks so.

Still, I’ve always said that in the year 2020 people are going to look up from reading the newspaper (on their phone) and ask themselves: What is this guy still doing in prison?

At this point, Blagojevich’s best chance might be a one-term Hillary Clinton presidency and the very slim hope that a lame duck Democratic administration would commute his sentence.

That’s just my way of reminding you that this will never be over until Blagojevich is set free, even if that’s in 2024 as scheduled, and probably not even then.

As much as we might wish to be rid of him, we will always have Rod Blagojevich. And he will always have that hair.

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