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Rod had his chance, but  just couldn’t go quietly

Updated: April 16, 2012 8:26AM

Ziff Sistrunk was sprawled on his belly on the sidewalk just across from Rod Blagojevich’s home on Wednesday morning with art supplies scattered around him.

Sistrunk was busily making a sign for what he’d planned to be a rally in support of Blagojevich on the ex-governor’s last full day as a free man.

Sistrunk, a political gadfly with a flair for showmanship belying his scruffy appearance, had promised free food, appearances by elected officials and an Elvis look-a-like for the occasion — all as a warm-up act for the governor’s planned farewell speech.

But none of those had materialized by the appointed hour, and Sistrunk admitted the elected officials had either ducked him or asked if he was crazy.

I’ve wondered the same thing myself about Sistrunk from time to time, his other lost causes having included a campaign to get Dick Allen in the Baseball Hall of Fame, but have always concluded as in that case: not entirely.

The only political type who offered him any support, Sistrunk said, was Bamani Obadele, a former minister and community activist who Blagojevich made a deputy director of the Department of Children and Family Services.

Obadele, just out of prison after serving a six-month sentence for directing DCFS contractors to buy promotional items and do business with companies he secretly owned, gave Sistrunk a $200 donation, used in part for the art supplies.

Obadele happened to call while I was standing there, and Sistrunk let me talk to him. Obadele told me he would have liked to attend, but as a convicted felon, he’s not allowed to have any contact with other convicted felons such as Blagojevich. You can see how that could have put a crimp in Wednesday’s turnout.

It wasn’t as if Sistrunk was all by himself. The street was teeming with television trucks, reporters and photographers all day, and Sistrunk was happy to give interviews to anyone about his plans to launch a petition drive for a presidential pardon for Blagojevich.

Strangely enough, while Sistrunk has been known to insinuate himself into many high profile occasions through the years, this was his first day on the Blagojevich cause.

“It’s something about being alone,” Sistrunk said in explanation of his presence.

“No man should ever have to stand alone,” added Sistrunk, 55, who did a stretch in Pontiac himself for robbing CTA buses as a young man and now organizes a youth baseball league between campaign grunt jobs.

There was never much chance of Blagojevich standing entirely alone Wednesday, the mere presence of the cameras always assuring a crowd eventually.

A couple of neighbor ladies also showed up early with signs of their own. Sistrunk rushed over to tape all the signs to the Blagojeviches’ porch railing.

I asked him if he was sure the Blagojeviches would approve of the sign that said: “Murderers and rapists get less time.”

He covered it up.

A young father came down the street pushing his son in a stroller.

“No,” I overhead the father tell his son, “it looks like a party, but it’s really not.”

By late afternoon, though, the crowd had built to such unmanageable proportions that you’d have sworn somebody really was giving away free food. Sistrunk decided he would take charge of clearing the news media out of the way to help Blagojevich down the sidewalk to where a microphone stand had been set up for his speech. A police sergeant with other ideas suggested he leave.

But Sistrunk was still there, front and center, when Blagojevich used his one last chance before a live television audience to deliver one last tone deaf campaign speech.

Sistrunk was the guy you might have seen in the security guard shirt and baseball cap rubbing Blagojevich’s back as he spoke.

The whole idea for the farewell speech was a mistake. Blagojevich should have gone away quietly to the Colorado prison and let his lawyers do the talking. Or if he felt compelled to speak, he should have offered the public more of the contrition he showed Judge James Zagel at sentencing, instead of the nonsense about being “on the right side of the law.”

But that’s just not his style. He had to play his role as the guy who never gives up, never gives in. (See the movie “Galaxy Quest.”) He needed to feel that public adulation once again. He needed that pat on the back.

Short of a miracle, it will be at least a decade before he gets another chance.

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