How Edward Vrdolyak once helped Rod Blagojevich
By ABDON M. PALLASCH Political Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org August 8, 2011 2:12AM
When Rod Blagojevich was fresh out of law school, his fluency with the Serbian language helped him land a job with Ed Vrdolyak’s law firm. | Richard A. Chapman, John J. Kim~Sun-Times
Updated: November 16, 2011 1:23AM
Ald. Dick Mell always got the lion’s share of the credit — or, depending on your point of view, the blame — for having advanced the career of Rod Blagojevich, but the ousted former governor’s retrial showed another prominent Chicago politician had a less-known role in giving a young Blagojevich’s legal career a boost when he was newly out of law school.
That would be Edward Vrdolyak — then a powerful Chicago alderman, now in prison, serving a 10-month sentence at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., for real estate fraud.
“I can’t say I came out of law school really knowing the law,” Blagojevich admitted when he testified in his own defense in what turned out to be a failed effort to avoid being convicted of wide-ranging corruption.
But that self-confessed lack of legal savvy didn’t keep him from going to Vrdolyak for a job while awaiting the results of his second attempt to pass the Illinois bar exam.
“Ed Vrdolyak — he was Croatian, I’m Serbian,” Blagojevich told jurors in a bit of testimony that drew scant attention. “I basically stalked him.”
What Blagojevich wanted was a job on the city of Chicago’s legal staff.
But when Vrdolyak learned that Blagojevich was fluent in Serbian, he instead offered him a job as a law clerk at his own thriving Southeast Side law firm, Blagojevich testified.
“ ‘Why don’t you come work for me, I’ll make ya part of the family,’ ” Blagojevich recalled Vrdolyak saying. “ ‘A kid like you — you speak the language a lot of our clients [speak].’ ”
At the firm, Blagojevich admitted to jurors, “I didn’t do a lot of law.”
He recalled that his assignments there included dropping off campaign literature in Hegewisch; getting election petitions signed for another Vrdolyak firm lawyer, Irwin Solganick, to run for judge; and picking up cheesecake from the well-known Lutz bakery for Vrdolyak’s driver.
Blagojevich said he kept trying to get to Vrdolyak to talk to him about a job in the city corporation counsel’s office, even as Vrdolyak’s clout waned.
“I finally tracked him down at the Bismarck hotel,” Blagojevich testified.
“ ‘I know I was supposed to get you a job,’ ” he said Vrdolyak told him. “ ‘I can’t hire ya, but I can get you $27,000 a year working in the state’s attorney’s office or the attorney general’s office. Which do you want?’ ”
But Vrdolyak never delivered on that, according to Blagojevich, who said he then turned to a childhood friend who had a brother in the state’s attorney’s office to try to get help getting a job.
“He didn’t want to help me because Vrdolyak was involved,” said Blagojevich, who finally did manage to land a job with the state’s attorney’s office.