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Rahm Emanuel on Blagojevich’s sentence: ‘My thoughts are with Patti and the kids’

Updated: January 10, 2012 8:20AM

They were once political allies — close enough that Rahm Emanuel asked Rod Blagojevich to appoint a seat warmer to take Emanuel’s place in Congress during his stint as White House chief of staff.

Now, Emanuel is mayor of Chicago and Blagojevich is going to prison to serve at least 11 years and nine months of his 14 year-sentence.

On Thursday, Emanuel was asked whether he believes his old friend deserved the book thrown at him by U.S. District Judge James Zagel, which resulted in one of the stiffest sentences imposed for political corruption in Illinois history.

Instead of answering, Emanuel changed the subject from Blagojevich to the ex-governor’s family — and to the message the scandal sends to all elected officials.

“My thoughts are with Patti and the kids. I called Ald. [Richard] Mell [Blagojevich’s estranged father-in-law] to express that, at this point obviously, it’s hard on the family and I’m thinking of him as well as the whole family,” the mayor said at an unrelated news conference.

“Second, is for all of us who are in public service to remember why we have chosen this career. It’s about serving the public and it’s about conducting yourself in that way.”

Pressed on whether he believes the punishment fit the crime, Emanuel said, “The sentence is the sentence. They’ve issued that. There’s nothing for me to [add]. All I would be doing is commenting on something and that’s not, in my view, the place or the time or what I want to do, since I want to express myself, as I’ve now said, to Patti and the kids.”

On the day that Blagojevich was sentenced, Emanuel provided counter-programming. He launched a four-month overhaul of Chicago’s anemic ethics ordinance to begin to write “Chapter Two” of the ethics reforms he started earlier.

But, he said, “You can pass all the laws you want — and you should so there’s clarity to the rules of the road about what’s appropriate and what’s not, what’s legal and what’s not. But for all of us who are in public service, while the laws are important, there’s also space for how you conduct yourself and your conscience about what is right and what is wrong.”

The Chicago Sun-Times reported in June that, four days after the 2008 presidential election, Emanuel called Blagojevich to suggest a plan just “between you and I” that would allow Emanuel to handpick a temporary congressional successor.

In the Nov. 8, 2008 recorded call, Emanuel told then-Gov. Blagojevich he wanted then-Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool tapped to fill Emanuel’s 5th Congressional District seat “in my interest of, uh, you know, having somebody there you know that doesn’t want to make it a lifetime commitment.”

Claypool only wants to serve “for like one term or two max,” Emanuel told Blagojevich. “And then he wants to go to the Cabinet.”

At the end of the excerpt of the call, Emanuel tells Blagojevich: “I will not forget this. ... I appreciate it. That’s all I am going to say. I don’t want to go — you and I shouldn’t go farther.”

Emanuel was a defense witness during the second Blagojevich trial. The mayor testified for less than three minutes and was never asked about his request for the political favor.

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