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The rise and fall  of Rod Blagojevich

Updated: April 12, 2012 10:01AM

Rod Blagojevich is planning a farewell news conference.

On Wednesday, the day before he boards a plane to Colorado to enter federal prison, he’ll meet the press one last time outside his Ravenswood Manor home. And say something, quote something. Kipling, perhaps.

I’d prefer Shakespeare, and the soliloquy from “Henry the VIII”:

“So farewell — to the little good you bear me.

This is the state of man: today he puts forth

The tender leaves of hopes, tomorrow blossoms,

And bears his blushing hopes thick upon him . . .

The third day comes a frost, a killing frost,

And when he thinks, good easy man, full surely

His greatness is a-ripening, nips his root,

And then he falls as I do.”

In 2002, “the tender leaves of hope” for Illinois Democrats blossomed into full-blown conquest of the governorship after three decades of Republican rule. Plus Democratic control of the state House and Senate.

Rod the Reformer arrived to hit the reset button on all that was corrupt with Illinois politics. But before his predecessor, George Ryan, had even been indicted in 2003, he had surrounded himself with con men and creeps who planned to milk state government for all the money they could get.

Christopher Kelly, Tony Rezko and Stuart Levine were in the game. So too were pinstripe political players like William Cellini and Joseph Cari.

Rod Blagojevich was the lottery and they held winning tickets.

They all ultimately got indicted. And convicted for trying to set up crooked pension deals, kickback schemes and pay-to-play contracts.

Warning signs?

There were a million of them for the young, charismatic, Ken­nedy-admiring, Elvis-loving governor. But he heeded none.

He took the small stuff, like a $1,500 personal check from a childhood friend given as “first communion money” to one of his daughters. The friend’s wife, in turn, got a state job.

There was the big stuff, like $25,000 campaign contributions in exchange for appointments to influential state boards and commissions.

By 2005, it had been widely reported that the feds had fixed their sights on Blagojevich.

Even so, his own party leaders endorsed his re-election in 2006 and voters put him back in office.

No wonder he thought he was invincible.

Blagojevich was the leader who never led. The governor who never governed. The guy who always got the answer he sought when he asked, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the most brilliant of them all?”

Though any 8-year-old who watches TV knows the feds have high-tech undercover listening devices and no sense of humor, Rod Blagojevich remained undeterred. And so he freely talked in 2008 about trading Barack Obama’s “f - - - - - - golden” U.S. Senate seat for something “tangible.”

If stupidity and venality were federal offenses, he’d be sentenced to life on a rock pile, not just 14 years.

It was March 2002 when Blago­jevich’s gubernatorial journey began, winning in a Democratic primary squeaker. Now, 10 years later, on a spring day when temperatures are expected to be uncommonly warm, the 40th governor of Illinois will meet his killing frost.

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