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Carol Felsenthal Headshot

An Offer From Blago I Could Refuse

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In August 2003, I interviewed Rod Blagojevich, then the new Illinois governor, n his Chicago office. He was full of stories--about Elvis and Sylvester Stallone and Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon and himself, of course--and brimming with optimism. Toned, tan, and fit, Blago was more than six years from being pulled from his bed, arrested and, a month later, impeached. As we left his office--accompanied by his chief press secretary, Cheryle Jackson--the same woman now running for the Senate seat that the feds have accused Blagojevich of trying to sell--we ran into Blago's deputy governor, Bradley Tusk, then 30.

Blago was in the midst of asking me about my children. I mentioned that my eldest had, three months before, graduated from college, and, the very next day, had headed to New York to break into the magazine business. She's working a couple of unpaid internships, I told him. Blago looked at his deputy, noted that Tusk is from New York, and ordered him, "Find her daughter a job." Blago seemed delighted with himself. Both Tusk and I were embarrassed. I shook my head no, and that was that. My daughter found her own job.

Tusk ended up getting out of the Blago administration in 2006--just in time--to return to New York, where he went to work as a senior vice president of Lehman Brothers. (In this regard Tusk reminds me Donald Rumsfeld, who shrewdly exited Richard Nixon's Washington before the corruption could touch him.)

Tusk has done much better than his former boss. He had previously worked as a special assistant to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and returned, in 2008, as Bloomberg's campaign manager. According to just released disclosures of bonuses paid to Bloomberg's staff, as reported in the New York Times, Tusk received a bonus of "at least $400,000," on top of a salary of $315,865. Pretty good.

Tusk is readying himself to work for Harold Ford should that newcomer to New York, a former congressman from Tennessee and failed Senate candidate in Tennessee, decide to take on Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in the state's Democratic primary. Tusk's boss Bloomberg is apparently backing Ford. New York Sen. Charles Schumer, for whom Tusk once worked, pre-Blago, as communications director, is Gillibrand's biggest backer, having taken to himself the task of clearing the field so Gillibrand, appointed to fill Hillary Clinton's seat, has no serious competition in the primary.

Meanwhile, Blago awaits trial. Before heading up to my office to write this post, I happened to turn on the radio, WLS-AM, and came in midstream to Blago's weekly radio call-in show. The theme was the same--to paraphrase--I'm innocent and I can't wait for the tapes to be released to prove that. Should Blago somehow manage to avoid prison, he could call Tusk and plead, "Can you get me a job?" Investment banking? New York? One for him, one for wife Patti. That would be nice and, in politics, much stranger things have happened.