Blagojevich sentenced to excessive imprisonment

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Blagojevich sentenced to excessive imprisonment
By Ray Hanania — Rod Blagojevich was a loud-mouthed, self-centered typical Chicago politician who tried and failed to play hardball with some of the toughest and most seasoned political foes out there. He even did a few things that were not only wrong, but that at least 23 jurors in two trials felt were criminal.

But to sentence the former governor to 14 years in prison is a travesty, and a decision that reflects more about the culture of corruption that plagues Illinois politics from top to bottom, but the unfairness of the judicial system when the target is someone the politicians hate.

And no one was hated in Illinois politics more than Rod Blagojevich.

He was hated by his political peers, who almost from one end of the spectrum to the other did exactly what Blagojevich did trying to leverage clout in exchange for campaign funds, but with more subtlety and practice.

Is that the dividing line between right and wrong? Subtlety? I thought it was supposed to be justice.

From the very beginning, Blagojevich was out of step with the establishment that put him in office. He rose to political power on the palm of his sponsor, Chicago Alderman Dick Mell. He married Mell’s daughter, Patti. He went from the legislature to the Congress to the office of the Governor.

And then his troubles started when Blagojevich saw himself as being better and smarter than his in-law mentor. He broke with Alderman Mell and the feud became vicious at times.

Notice I didn’t say that he rose to the Governor’s “mansion?” The Blagojevich’s bucked their political alliance demands in favor of raising their young children on Chicago’s northside Ravenswood neighborhood in a beautiful home and at great schools. That they refused to settle in at the Mansion seemed to strangely upset the political establishment.

How could he? But that was really a ruse.

Blagojevich’s big problem was that he thought the Governor actually ran Illinois. No. Illinois is run by the talented and brilliant House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, one of the most intelligent politicians in state history who had little tolerance for upstarts who thought they knew better. That Blagojevich couldn’t get along with Madigan was Blagojevich’s own fault.

But the Blagojevich story is more than just one ruckus chapter in a biography of how to make enemies out of friends, allies and the public that elected you twice to the office of governor.

Just look at his problems. Blagojevich couldn’t get along with the people in his chosen field, the politicians. From the far right to the far left, they hated him. All for different reasons. It was the 80 percent/20 percent problem. About 0 percent of what he did settled well with everyone. But, everyone else could easily find 20 percent of what he did to be obnoxious and unsettling. And everyone had a different 20 percent to dislike.

Second was his failure to remain allied with the public that put him in office despite the opposition from the professional politicians. After all, Dick Mell’s power didn’t extend too far outside of his 33rd Ward. Blagojevich had some kind of appeal when he ran and won statewide office.

When his battles began, instead of hiring a seasoned strategic communications professional, he instead chose the more enticing route of fame and national fortune. He picked a Hollywood celebrity PR stuntman who did a great job of getting Blagojevich seen on a national level. Like when he told late night talk show host David Letterman, “I’ve been wanting to be on your show in the worst way for the longest time.”

And Letterman snapped back, “Well, you’re on in the worst way, believe me.”

Maybe his Hollywood celebrity suggested the idiotic mistake to Blagojevich? Hollywood celebrities are great for people like the Kardashians — and I use the word “people” loosely in the case of the Kardashians. But it did little to reinforce Blagojevichs core message that what the U.S. Attorney alleged against him during an unprecedented “pre-crime” arrest almost 3 years to the day of his conviction was wrong. Blagojevich missed the boat in lobbying the public to sympathize with him that he was an “outsider” who was trying to play the same game that the other politicians whow ere attacking him constantly played, too, and probably better.

Every politician trades favors for favors. The phrase “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch your back” was probably invented on the same day that Chicago inaugurated its first City Council and freshman Aldermanic class.

Blagojevich just did it all thumbs. He and his wife wouldn’t have been on those reality TV shows, but the jury pool would have been less tainted against him.

And the US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald certainly hated Blagojevich, or saw a political opportunity for himself. After all, it was a predecessor James R. Thompson who rose to political heights as a former U.S. Prosecutor.

In the early 1970s, Thompson won convictions against former Governor Otto Kerner Jr, for  improper influence on behalf of the racetrack industry. And he convicted many of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley’s top aides, most notably Alderman Tom Keane and County Clerk Matt Danaher, on various corruption charges.

But his foes didn’t stop with the politicians or the growing weariness of the public. Blagojevich went after the news media battling with the Chicago Tribune. The media always circles its wagons when confronted by any politician, like the hypocrites they really are. Chicago’s downtown media is one of the most corrupt in the country and they are willing to close their eyes to the foibles of their friends while exaggerating those of their enemies, especially as the economy tanked. Chicago’s top two daily newspapers are in bankruptcy court even as I write.

This made it very easy for U.S. District Judge James Zagel, a close friend of the news media, to come down hard on Blagojevich, not just in sentencing, but during the trial. Zagel was outrageously biased against Blagojevich and he said so on every opportunity. Zagel said he was angry because Blagojevich defended himself so publicly before and between the trials. Are you kidding me? That an accused doesn’t have the right to defend himself in American justice?

It’s the most outrageous example of judicial professional failure. Zagel, the media darling, should have been forced to recuse himself from the trial. But with no one but himself cheering him on. With the media and the politicians against him. With the public failing to understand his message. And with Zagel at the head of the kangaroo court lynching. Rod Blagojevich never had a chance.

I’m not saying he is innocent, although you have to look at that aspect very hard. Blagojevich never took a dime. Not one penny. He may have said he wanted to but since when do we put people in prison for thinking? Maybe in preventing violence but politically motivated lynchings don’t count.

Maybe he was guilty but we will never know the truth of justice in this case because truth was so corrupted in this case.

Sentencing Rod Blagojevich, who by the way I never met, to 14 years in prison for his alleged crimes was more about satisfying the mob mentality of the politicians, the media, the public and the judge than it was about justice.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and media consultant. He hosts Radio Chicagoland every Sunday on WSBC AM 1240 from 8 am until 11 am. Go to to listen to his podcast rant on the Blagojevich trial. Call in on Sunday and share your view at 773-792-1240. Or email him at

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Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania is an award winning political and humor columnist who analyzes American and Middle East politics, and life in general. He is an author of several books.

"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."

Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).

Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at, and at, and at He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper,, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.

Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.

The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website, Hanania's columns also appear in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.

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Visit this link to read Ray's column archive at the ArabNews,com
Ray Hanania