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Toby Greenwalt Headshot

Handcuffs and Shoulder Shrugs

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What's the street-level reaction to Rod Blagojevich's arrest? Something between "Here we go again" and "About time."

The announcement came, and I almost fell down the stairs.

Which isn't to say that Rod Blagojevich's arrest came as a surprise, nor was I particularly torn up over the event. More that I had made it halfway out of the apartment when my wife ran outside, screaming, "Did you hear? They're putting Blago away!" As I grabbed the railing to avoid breaking my spine, all I could think was, "Well, it's about time."

Similar attitudes were in effect at the suburban library where I work. Being a public librarian gives me a fantastic ground-level view to the way major events connect with a broad swath of humanity. In the case of Blagojevich, the reaction was fairly uniform. Some were shocked, more saw it coming, and others asked for the morning paper, which had gone to press far too early to provide any news of the arrest. (Score one for new media.)

Corruption in Illinois politics comes as no surprise to its residents. The previous governor, George Ryan, is currently sitting in prison on federal corruption charges. Daniel Walker, who served as governor from 1973 to 1977, spent 18 months in jail for a bank fraud scandal occurring after he left office. Governor Otto Kerner went to jail in 1973 for accepting bribes.
It even spreads to the seemingly harmless library industry: This October, Rick Beard, the Executive Director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library was forced to step down after being caught on camera shoplifting a DVD of House. Maybe it's something in the water in Springfield, but our state's public servants can't keep their hands out of the cookie jar. Or the New Releases rack at Target.

The frequency with which this keeps occuring continues to influence the public's ability to take such scandals in stride. Blagojevich won his 2006 reelection on the basis of inertia rather than anything resembling merit. My wife voted for his Republican challenger Judy Baar Topinka, citing her "awesome politician-lady hair." I ended up leaving that ballot line blank, after briefly considering writing in some kind of anatomical vulgarity. G-Rod still managed to win by a decisive margin.

As befits my standing as a librarian, the entire affair brings a book to mind. Call it an occupational hazard. Mike Stanton's The Prince of Providence gives us the story of Buddy Cianci, the former mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, and twice-convicted felon. After the first conviction -- for assaulting a man Cianci thought was sleeping with his wife -- Cianci went to jail, got paroled, and managed to get re-elected by an overwhelming majority. The second time, he was convicted in the wake of an FBI corruption probe called "Operation Plunder Dome." Cianci is out now, and hosts a popular radio show -- the same thing he did the first time he got out of prison.

Of course, this ignores a fundamental difference between Balgojevich and Cianci: People actually seemed to like the mayor of Providence. Blagojevich's approval ratings have consistently been lower than George W. Bush's. G-Rod recently held a press conference wearing the Cableknit Sweater of Supplication, admitting his need to "work extra hard to get them to love me again."

In light of these events, Governor, I'm inclined to say that love doesn't live here any more. The conversation has moved on to how far this investigation will lead. Whether it's a political newcomer like Tammy Duckworth or a political institution like Richard Daley, a lot of people are hoping Fitzmas only hits once this year. For those of us who watched the crowds in Grant Park on Election Night, we look forward to the next set of sweeping reforms brought on by a new state official. At the very least, for those first quiet years before another conviction gets handed down.