The tears flowed at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse. Rod Blagojevich’s daughters wept. Mom and dad desperately tried to comfort them. Family and friends stood by, bereft and red-eyed.
The imprisoned former governor had asked, begged and pleaded for a reduced sentence. On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge James Zagel said, “No.”
Facebook and Twitter were flooded with sympathetic cries from Blagojevich’s fans, apologists, even hard-bitten critics, all lamenting that the judge refused to slice not even one millisecond off his original, 14-year sentence.
It was too harsh, they cried. Give the guy a break.
Don’t cry for Blago.
Back in 2011, Zagel meant what he said. Those 14 years were heard around the world. Zagel meant them as a shocking deterrent. He meant to jolt Illinois off its crooked path of corruption, to deter future bad behavior at the public’s expense.
“If confidence in the integrity of the highest ranking officer of the state, a sovereign officer, is lost or diminished, things will get worse and not better,” Zagel said at the time.
“When it is the governor who goes bad, the fabric of Illinois is torn and disfigured and not easily or quickly repaired. You did that damage.”
The chief prosecutor in the case, then-U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald, declared, “If there’s a public official out there who is thinking about committing a crime, boy, they ought to be thinking twice.”
Think about those 14 years, and think twice.
Now, it seems, many didn’t. So don’t cry for Blago. Read this, and weep:
“The year 2015 was a banner year for corruption in the State of Illinois, the third most corrupt state in the nation,” wrote co-author Dick Simpson, the former alderman and longtime political science professor at the University of Illinois.
The “Anti-Corruption Report Number, 9” documented “27 convictions, 28 indictments, and the launching of 11 corruption investigations.”
The report, co-authored by Thomas J. Gradel, Leslie Price, and Ion Nimerencu, was released in March. It also identified “the sentencing of 30 public corruption convicts last year, most of whom were convicted in a year or two before 2015.”
Their corruption roll call is replete with once high-flying names: Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who pled guilty to violating federal banking laws and lying to the FBI in a hush money scheme. He began his 15-month prison sentence in June.
Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who pled guilty to receiving kickbacks in exchange for steering multimillion-dollar, no-bid CPS contracts to her former boss.
Former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock of Peoria, who resigned during an investigation of alleged misuse of campaign funds.
Karen Finley, former CEO of Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., who pled guilty in a bribery scheme to win the city’s lucrative red-light camera contracts.
The report cited many more names, the boldface and the small-fry. “Based on the evidence in this report, it appears that our elected officials, our state and local governments, and society as a whole, are losing the battle against corruption,” the researchers concluded.
It looks like many more “public servants” will succumb to corruption, depriving Illinois of the resources, trust and dignity it needs, now, more than ever.
Don’t cry for Blago. Cry for us.
Follow Laura Washington on Twitter: @MediaDervish