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How foolish Blago saved the day

Updated: January 1, 2012 8:13AM

A hard-bitten, ace reporter colleague stopped me dead in my tracks the other day.

“I think Rod Blagojevich should get probation,” he declared, “not prison time.”

You’re kidding, I said.

“I’m not,” he replied.

Your reasoning?

“Look who Blagojevich delivered to the feds,” he said. “Bill Cellini, Edward ‘Fast Eddie’ Vrdolyak and Stuart Levine. All are guys the government wanted to grab for years, especially Vrdolyak and Cellini. But they never could.”

But, I protested, Blagojevich didn’t turn them in, rat them out or wear a wire. So how did he deliver these multimillionaire political wheeler-dealers to the feds?

“Think of state government as a terrarium,” said my reporter friend patiently. “It is its own contained environment. Then you drop Rod Blagojevich in as governor in 2002. He’s the new bug in the glass bowl. The first Democrat in 26 years. And he brings with him other new bugs, ‘advisers’ Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly.”

Suddenly I’m following his logic.

It’s not that the Republicans, the party to which Cellini and Levine belonged, didn’t have their own insect class. After all, former-now-imprisoned Gov. George Ryan’s corruption was the foundation of Blagojevich’s victory.

But Cellini, Levine and Vrdolyak were sophisticated in a bipartisan way about government. Extremely cautious in their dealings. And amazingly successful in transforming contacts and contracts into gold.

Rod Blagojevich blew a hole in their cover without really realizing it. From the beginning, his administration was prepared to offer new opportunities to old operatives.

The truly amazing thing was that those old, skilled operators were already rich men into their golden years. They didn’t need to make another buck but somehow couldn’t pass up a crooked grab from the suckers — witting or unwitting — who run the various parts of government in this state.

“Bill Cellini has been plying his trade since 1968,” said my reporter friend. “Did anyone think anything could bring him down?”

Certainly not Rod “Elvis” Blagojevich. His vanity and grandiosity should have warned Cellini — and everybody else — off.

That it didn’t is testament to the power of venality and greed.

Which takes me back to the upcoming sentencing of our hapless former governor.

When U.S. District Court Judge Amy St. Eve recently gave his fund-raiser/fixer Tony Rezko a whopping 10½-year sentence, gasps could be heard in the Blagojevich camp.

Judge St. Eve, with plenty of good reason, argued enough was enough in terms of tolerating Illinois political corruption.

So does Rezko’s sentence automatically mandate more time for Rod Blagojevich? After all, Rezko was not a public official but Blagojevich was. And elected, for heaven’s sake, as a “reformer.”

The irony, of course, is that Rezko, Levine, Cellini and Vrdolyak all reaped real money from their insider deals. Cellini and Vrdolyak still have plenty of cash on hand.

Blagojevich, who never successfully sold a U.S. Senate seat or anything else, is looking at a longer time away than any of them.

If narcissism and cupidity were felonies, he should get life.

On the other hand, in a goofy way, he delivered on an early promise. He pledged to “rock the system.” And he sure did.

A crass amateur, Rod Blagojevich mucked it up for the big boys. That fact alone ought to trim a year or two off his time.

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