Blagojevich, Mell and our legacy elections

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Politics is like a virus.

Just ask Aaron Goldstein.

“I have the political bug, always followed it,” he said when I called this week, adding, “Policy has always interested me.”

Remember him?

Maybe not.

But you’ll never forget the defendant Goldstein represented in two corruption trials that garnered national attention.

Rod Blagojevich.

Goldstein, 38, was one of the former governor’s attorneys in two harrowing trials that ultimately resulted in Blago being sentenced to the federal slammer for a staggering 14 and a half years.

Now, in one of the many ironies of Chicago politics, Goldstein is running for state representative from the Northwest Side, where Blago won his first elective office thanks to his father-in-law, Dick Mell, who has been a political powerhouse for decades.

It was Mell’s machine that sent Blago on a trajectory to Congress and the Governor’s Mansion — and ultimately to prison by complaining publicly that his ingrate son-in-law was selling seats on boards and commissions to the highest bidder. The FBI paid serious attention to that.

  • If that’s not enough irony for you, let’s remember Mell’s daughter Deborah, in 2008, was elected to be the state rep from basically that same part of the Northwest Side where Blago served and now where Goldstein and six others are now vying for the job. Deborah Mell is now an alderman thanks to her father’s retirement from City Council. She got his seat and one of Dick Mell’s closest patronage aides, Jaime Andrade, got Deborah’s unfinished term in the state House.
  • Are you still with me here? Because it gets more interesting.

Now Mell’s guy, Andrade, is running to keep the seat he was gifted. And Rod’s former defense attorney is fighting to take it away. And he’s making Blago’s nemesis a central campaign issue.

  1. That nemesis?
  2. House Speaker Michael Madigan aka He-Who-Must-Control-All.

(Let’s just stipulate that Rod Blagojevich wasn’t wrong about everything.)

Another major candidate in this seven-way race is 35th ward committeeman Nancy Schiavone. Like Goldstein, Schiavone, 55, is a lawyer. Like Goldstein, she is not allied with Madigan or Mell.

“I’ve knocked on 6,000 doors,” she told me, “and people are upset with the middle-of-the-night appointment of Jaime.”

But is there enough voter fury in this 40th District race to buck a candidate blessed by what’s left of Mell’s organization and Madigan’s giant campaign war chest?

Longtime political Chicago Daily Observer columnist and blogger Russ Stewart, who covers the Northwest Side like a blanket, argues that the only thing that would surprise him in this race would be “if people actually took notice what is transpiring [and seriously challenge] Madigan and his rubber stamp and feather-bedders.”

Jaime Andrade, 40, argues this talk of clout is unfair and completely overlooks his service to the 33rd ward and the 40th District over the years.

But the fact is there are precious few state races in the coming March 18 election capable of sending an anti-Madigan, anti-Machine message.

And this, believe me, is one of them.

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