As you might have observed by now, Illinois governor-elect Rod Blagojevich promoted himself last year in an almost presidential manner. As soon as the election was over, a sympathetic scribe or two in the media even suggested that our governor-elect might have some presidential material in him.

And now we're told Blago is hiring a special train to take him from his hometown of Chicago to Springfield for his inauguration ceremonies January 13. He'll also make a few stops along the way - mostly in Republican-dominated towns.

On the surface, at least, Blagojevich has enough interesting traits to attract perhaps one or two national political reporters to his whistle-stop tour. Downstate voters supported his candidacy in a year when rural and smaller-town voters turned away from the Democratic Party in droves. His difficult and very ethnic name didn't seem to be a problem. He did well in suburbia and very well with black voters. He can raise a ton of money and he has almost boundless energy.

But many of those traits are illusory. Remember, Blago ran against an almost clueless opponent who ignored or alienated moderate women and African Americans in a year when the Illinois Republican Party all but collapsed from scandal and fatigue.

Yes, Blagojevich likes to raise money and has plenty of energy, but what we have yet to see is whether his governance can match his all-out efforts at self-promotion.

Eleven thousand state employees have taken early retirement - way more than expected. The government Blagojevich inherits has lost many, if not most, of the people who knew how to keep it running. And it's just about dead broke.

Blagojevich's inauguration address had better be more than pretty words and rhetorical flourishes. Blago promised change a million times during the campaign. And after three straight governors who broke their promises to not raise taxes, and then four solid years of revelations about grotesque levels of government corruption, Blago had better bring some change to this state. If he doesn't, all the happy train rides in the world won't drown out his failure.

Which brings us to the First Father-in-law. Chicago Alderman Dick Mell, otherwise known as the power behind the throne, was accused last week of doing some pretty underhanded things, including allegedly using two Chicago police officers to take photographs of his aldermanic opponent. Mell also allegedly sent city inspectors to shut down two small businesses that displayed signs for that same opponent.

One of the city coppers allegedly used by Mell was Chester Hornowski, a perennial candidate who lives across Keeler Avenue from Mell's ward office. Officer Hornowski has been relieved of street duty pending an investigation.

Hornowski is quite a character. He has never won a race, but he has run five times for the Illinois House as a Democrat, and twice for 30th Ward Republican committeeman. He has campaigned for Cook County board once (as a Democrat), has lost the (nonpartisan) 30th Ward aldermanic primary four times, and is running for that office yet again. He also found time to run for Congress - as a Republican. The first time I met him was in Springfield, outside the State Board of Elections at about 4 in the morning while he was waiting in line to submit his nominating petitions. He was one of the first people in line.

Mell flatly denies any involvement, but candidates are often photographed as part of any petition challenge. In Chicago, candidates have been known to hire ineligible petition-passers to gather signatures. The candidates would then sign their own names at the bottom of the petitions to "prove" that they passed the petitions.

So, their opponents then approach some of the people who signed the petitions in question and show them the photograph of the candidate and ask if that person actually brought the petition to their homes. If not, legal trouble ensues. But that's not really necessary these days, because the courts have ruled that just about anyone, including people who don't live in Illinois, can now pass petitions. So, this story might not add up.

Still, Hornowski gave Mell's campaign operation $450 last June. Hmmm.

Hey, Rod, this ain't change. Too many more stories like this and Mell should be put on a train - one way, to another state far from this one.

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

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