Illinois Governor Hits the Ground Stumbling Print
Commentary/Politics - Illinois Politics
Tuesday, 18 February 2003 18:00
Just one month into his term as governor, Rod Blagojevich has already alienated legislators and other politicians who should be completely in his corner. Last Tuesday, a group of 20 elected African-American officials from Chicago’s west side, including U. S. Representative Danny Davis and state Senator Rickey Hendon (both Democrats), issued a press release saying they would express their “extreme disappointment” with the governor at a news conference the next morning. The press release’s headline indicated they were “angry that the governor has ignored west-side appointments!”

Senator Hendon helped lead the charge. Hendon, the co-chairperson of the Senate Executive Appointments Committee, has been miffed at the freshman governor for not contacting him about upcoming agency appointments.

Less than half of those who were on the press release actually showed up at the press conference, but the fireworks were plenty, with one official demanding that Blagojevich stop treating them like second-class citizens. Blagojevich, they complained, had not appointed a single west-sider to his team or even returned their phone calls, even though the region gave him a 16-to-one margin in the general election.

Then, last Thursday, Assistant House Majority Leader Louvana “Lou” Jones (also a Chicago Democrat) escalated the war of words by calling the governor’s choice to run the Illinois Department of Transportation, Tim Martin, a “racist.”

Jones said that when Martin oversaw contract compliance for the Chicago public-schools system, he did “literally nothing for the African-American community schools.”

“I think the man is a racist. That’s my opinion. And I base that opinion on his track record,” Jones said.

Blagojevich probably didn’t help matters much when he took a public swipe at the complaining black legislators by saying he is “not seeking the advice and consent of political leaders in these [hiring] decisions.”

That comment could pose a big problem for a couple of reasons. The state constitution requires that he obtain the “advice and consent” of the Illinois Senate for his agency appointments. And as I’ve told you, Senator Hendon, who organized the press conference, co-chairs the Executive Appointments Committee.

Plus, saying he wasn’t seeking advice or consent of political players raises questions about Blago’s appointments so far, and about any future appointments. For example, his new director of what was formerly called the Department of Commerce & Community Affairs worked for a Chicago political insider, and another person about to be appointed to an important quasi-state agency worked for the same insider.

So what is really going on here? A lot of people, mostly white but some black, have privately dismissed the complaints from the African-American politicos as typical over-the-top over-reactions from hypersensitive, almost childishly impatient politicians.

But what about Blago’s defensive responses to their criticisms? And don’t give me the excuses that he should be allowed more time to get his act together and that progress has been so slow because the Democrats don’t have a “farm system” from which to pick top talent.

The hard truth is Blagojevich wasted two valuable months in November and December when he should have been putting his cabinet together. Before the U.S. Supreme Court had even ruled that George W. Bush had won the 2000 presidential election, the prez-to-be was already announcing cabinet appointments. Blagojevich, who pledged to “hit the ground running,” spent his crucial pre-inaugural months doing, um, what? Here it is the middle of February – more than three months since Election Day – and 16 out of 28 agency-director appointments have not even been announced.

And there are plenty of qualified people in the state’s vast network of not-for-profit organizations who have worked closely with state agencies, and in large municipal governments, from which to pick cabinet appointments. So don’t tell me the Dems don’t have a farm team.

Blagojevich also talked last Wednesday about how cutting deals with political insiders is the “old” way of doing business, which he is trying to eliminate. Gimme a break. The “old” way of doing business is appointing three campaign contributors to the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, which he also did Wednesday. The “old” way of doing business is hiring two people who work for a major Chicago insider who is also a big-time campaign contributor.

And, let’s not forget, the “old” way of doing business, at least in white-dominated Chicago wards, is to brush off complaints by black politicians as nothing but hyperbole and self-interest. The governor’s reaction was, in a way, typical white-ward garbage.

For the past few weeks the Blago stumbles have reminded me of the sainted New York Mets manager Casey Stengel’s exasperated plea: “Can’t anybody here play this game?”

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at (
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