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How Edward Vrdolyak once helped Rod Blagojevich

When Rod Blagojevich was fresh out law school his fluency with Serbian language helped him ljob with Ed Vrdolyak’s law

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

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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.

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