Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich says in his new book that he and his wife, Patti, would have gladly moved to Springfield once he was elected governor, but they had more than themselves to think about. "If this decision and the considerations involved concerned only Patti and me, it would have been easy," Blagojevich writes in "The Governor: Finally the Truth Behind the Political Scandal that Continues to Rock the Nation (Phoenix Books, $24.95)."
Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich says in his new book that he and his wife, Patti, would have gladly moved to Springfield once he was elected governor, but they had more than themselves to think about.
"If this decision and the considerations involved concerned only Patti and me, it would have been easy," Blagojevich writes in "The Governor: Finally the Truth Behind the Political Scandal that Continues to Rock the Nation (Phoenix Books, $24.95)."
"We would have happily moved to Springfield. Why not?" Blagojevich writes, noting the home is 50,000 square feet with a staff of 25 people, and notables such as Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt stayed there.
"If it was just Patti and me, we would have moved there in a minute. But we had to consider our children. When I was elected, our daughter Amy was six, and Annie was due the following April," Blagojevich writes.
Blagojevich recounted his time in Washington as a congressman, and how he knew at least three of his colleagues there had lost a child to suicide. And he said Patti knew the negative impact of being raised in a political family, as she was the daughter of a Chicago alderman.
"We didn't want our children growing up spoiled with a sense of privilege and entitlement," Blagojevich writes. "Growing up in a big governor's mansion, surrounded by staff, in a company town where the only business is government business, and you are the governor's kids. That's not a normal way for children to grow up. We wanted to keep their lives as normal as possible to keep them as humble as possible."
The governor covers a lot of other political ground in the book. Here's a sampling:
Blagojevich was aware, at least at one point, of what was being said about him on Springfield radio.
As a new state representative in the early 1990s, he made headlines in Chicago on a push to increase fees that gun owners pay for identification cards.
"Mail from gun owners across Illinois poured into my office. A radio talk-show host in Springfield, Illinois, railed against the bill and called me 'Representative Blowhard ..... (synonym for female dog)."
Blagojevich noted he "valiantly defended" the bill to fund trauma centers but calls that ironic because it had been brought to him by House Speaker Michael Madigan's staff.
"In any event, my bill went down in flames. I'm glad it did. It was a stupid idea," Blagojevich writes.
Blagojevich and Mell
Blagojevich ramps up the long-running tension between him and his powerful father-in-law, Chicago Alderman Dick Mell.
The ex-governor talks fondly about how Mell served as his political godfather over the years, recruiting him to first run for state representative and then helping win bids for Congress and governor.
Blagojevich goes into extensive detail midway through the book about how their relationship destructed, including some volatile charges.
Blagojevich insists he frequently tried to work things out with Mell but couldn't because "I wasn't doing everything he wanted me to do." Blagojevich says Mell wanted him to fill the payroll with political hires and that Blagojevich hired "dozens of people who he recommended or came out of his political organization."
"As long as they were qualified, their backgrounds properly vetted, and the law allowed them to be hired, his people were getting jobs," Blagojevich writes.
But that wasn't good enough. Blagojevich says he never dreamed Mell would "make it a purpose in his life to hurt me or try to destroy me."
Blagojevich says one time he called Patti from Los Angeles, where he was raising money. Patti tells the ex-governor in that call that she believes her father "was so angry at me and hated me so much, she was afraid he was going to kill me," Blagojevich writes.
"It sounded crazy and I told her that. But she kept on. She insisted that she was serious," Blagojevich writes. An office assistant in Mell's office made clear Tuesday the alderman would have no comment.
"The alderman is not going to talk about the book, I can tell you that," the assistant said.
Despite the serious charges of pay to play against him, Blagojevich insists he was committed as governor to running his administration as clean and free from political influence as possible.
Blagojevich writes that he chose longtime friend Lon Monk as his chief of staff because he could be trusted and had a complete lack of connections and friendships in Illinois.
Blagojevich says unlike Republican predecessor George Ryan, Blagojevich wanted nothing to do with issuing state contracts and said he made it clear to run the administration to "prevent the kinds of things my predecessor and the people around him did."
He set up his administration to run government operations through the chief of staff. Monk worked with a deputy governor and state agency directors on the day-to-day decision-making.
"I wasn't interested in squandering my opportunity to focus on the big picture by getting caught up in the minutiae. I wanted to stay above it. I didn't want to get dragged into the petty squabbles that surrounded things like jobs and promotions," Blagojevich writes.
Blagojevich then talks about a "feeding frenzy" of Democratic political leaders asking for recommended people to get jobs in his administration, but names only President Barack Obama, a state senator at the time who Blagojevich says recommended friend Eric Whitaker to be the Department of Public Health director. Whitaker was hired.
"When I was elected governor, I promised to end business as usual. And I believe I did," Blagojevich writes.
Durbin for governor
Blagojevich says that had U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., run for governor in 2002, he would have been difficult to overcome.
But Blagojevich said he knew that Durbin "was unlikely to be willing to risk losing his Senate seat by running against Jim Ryan (the GOP nominee in 2002) for governor."
Blagojevich writes that Durbin had too much to lose as a rising star in Senate leadership, and his "aversion to risk losing what he had and where he was going paved the way for me." Blagojevich notes a Durbin run would have crippled his bid, with party leaders quickly getting behind him.
"I would have been without oxygen, unable to breathe. I wouldn't have been capable of building the coalition I built, or raise the money I raised," Blagojevich writes.
Tough governor race
In that 2002 Democratic primary race against former Attorney General Roland Burris and Paul Vallas, who had run Chicago Public Schools, Blagojevich knew that despite his Chicago roots, he needed a big boost from downstate to win the governorship.
"(E)ven though I began the race with 8 percent of the downstate vote, my pollster, Fred Yang, predicted that with my personal story and the right message, we had the potential to not only win but actually dominate the downstate vote," Blagojevich writes.
Blagojevich writes that he always knew he'd do well downstate because he shared "the same values and the same life experience as most of them."
"Their life story and the things they cared about were the same as mine. Don't give me something for free, just give me an opportunity. ... And don't make me be the one who has to keep paying for the politicians and government who are making the decisions," Blagojevich writes.
He notes he won all but two of the 96 downstate counties and received 77 percent of the vote in Washington County, home to southern Illinois coal miners for generations.
Even though "The Governor" is just hitting shelves, a state lawmaker is targeting the book's profits.
Rep. Jack Franks, a Marengo Democrat and fierce Blagojevich critic, pushed a measure through the legislature earlier this year that would put profits Blagojevich gains from book deals and television appearances in jeopardy of being seized. House Bill 4078 was approved by Gov. Pat Quinn last month.
"Obviously, the law was inspired by Blagojevich, however, it goes much further than him," Franks said. "All corrupt Illinois politicians need to know they are going to be held accountable for their actions."
But it's not that simple. Blagojevich would first have to be convicted of the corruption charges against him and determined to have "injured the people of Illinois." Then the attorney general's office would have to ask a court to order that any such profits be forfeited.
Robyn Ziegler, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Lisa Madigan, would not say if such a lawsuit is planned.
"We will be prepared to enforce the law in any situation where it is applicable," Ziegler said.
Bernard Schoenburg can be reached at Bernard.firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-788-1540. Ryan Keith can be reached at Ryan.email@example.com or 217-788-1518.