Now that's corruption, my friends! I'm speaking, of course, about the indictment this week of Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich. The Feds say that, among other dastardly deeds, Blagojevich conspired to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama by sale to the highest bidder.
A 76-page FBI affidavit released Tuesday said the Democratic governor's wheeling and dealing was revealed by court-authorized wiretaps, and in the event that the governor's sale price wasn't met, he was planning to appoint himself to the Senate.
And, as they say on late-night infomercials, "That's not all." The governor is alleged to have threatened to withhold funds from the Tribune Company on its proposed sale of Wrigley Field unless the Chicago Tribune fired some of its "unsupportive" editorial staff. According to one wiretapped conversation, Tribune Company CEO Sam Zell "got the message and is very sensitive to the issue."
In addition, the governor attempted to get $7 million in kickbacks from companies seeking business with the state of Illinois and sought a six-figure nonprofit board position.
U.S. attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald (remember him?) issued a statement saying that "the breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering." You think?
If I'm Mayor Willie Herenton, I'm relieved — and nervous as a cat. Relieved, because if Herenton is nabbed for anything by the grand jury meeting in Memphis this week, his dabbles in local real estate are probably going to look like chicken feed in comparison. And nervous because it's obvious the Bush Justice Department isn't relenting on its prosecutions of public officials, despite the president's lame-duck status.
I mention the Blagojevich affair by way of comparison for those who seem to delight in slamming Memphis' politicians as the most corrupt in the country. We aren't even close. No Memphis public official to my knowledge has attempted to intimidate a newspaper into writing favorable articles, as much as they would have liked to. Yes, we've had some bad apples but no one like Blagojevich.
Still, corruption is corruption. If Mayberry sheriff Andy Taylor offered Barney Fife a promotion to get permission to date Thelma Lou and the Feds found about it, he'd be in the slammer with Otis in no time. We still have two months before the new administration takes office. The mayor of Birmingham was indicted on relatively unspectacular corruption charges two weeks ago. I wouldn't bet against more indictments at this juncture — anywhere.