A Year Later, Blagojevich Arrest Still Disgusts and Amuses | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

A Year Later, Blagojevich Arrest Still Disgusts and Amuses

One year ago this week, then-Governor Rod Blagojevich was handcuffed by the FBI. The early morning arrest was followed by the rapid conclusion of his political career. That day, there was shock, disgust and more than a little amusement.

It was rainy and cold in Chicago's upscale Ravenswood Manor neighborhood.

GRANT: It occurred about 6 o'clock in the morning.

FBI vehicles pulled up to Blagojevich's 3,800 square foot home on the corner of Richmond and Sunnyside. Blagojevich's phone rang, waking him up.

GRANT: And it was a phone call from me to the governor...

Robert Grant leads Chicago's office of the FBI.

GRANT: ...advising him that we had a warrant for his arrest, that there were two FBI agents outside his door, asked him to open the door, so we could do this quietly, without the media finding out about it, without waking the children. He was very cooperative, and that's it.

TUCKER: I got to work and then I saw it on the news, and then my wife called me and said, 'There are these news trucks zipping up the street.'

Patrick Tucker is a neighbor of Blagojevich's. Tucker lives about two blocks south, and walks past the governor's house every morning on his way to the train.

TUCKER: I'd actually gotten up very early that day, and I walked by and it was dead quiet. And so, I guess my real impression then was, how stealthily they grabbed him.

KULAS: Well, I think I was in the kitchen reading the morning news paper. I had the morning news on on the television, when I saw that the governor had been arrested.

Myron Kulas was Rod Blagojevich's first political casualty. Kulas lost his seat in the Illinois House when the aspiring young politician beat him back in 1992. He's now retired and living in west suburban La Grange, and wasn't exactly upset when he heard about Blagojevich's arrest.

KULAS: My first reaction was, 'Thank God.' I thought, maybe finally the state will start working on governing the state.

A current state Representative, Ken Dunkin, says he was out of the country when the governor was arrested.

DUNKIN: You know, people started calling. I had my phone with me, so I was get text messages and phone calls.

Dunkin was well known as one of Blagojevich's few allies in the Illinois House. That's a label he rejects, although he criticizes news coverage of the arrest as sensationalized, a prosecutor he says was grandstanding, and the impeachment process, though he ultimately supported it. 

Duncan says he saw the news on TV, and heard about Blagojevich appearing in court that afternoon wearing a jogging suit.
DUNKIN: I mean, it was a surprise. A big surprise to see, our governor, in jogging - I mean, we've seen him in his jogging suits before - but to be coming from the courthouse with this media throng was a bit surprising.

On the evening of Blagojevich's arrest, Scott Weiner turned on the TV news while eating dinner. He'd worked late the night before at The Fifty/50, the bar he owns on Division Street, and was unaware of the events of the day.

WEINER: I knew they were talking about Illinois, and then - you know, get on the internet and you're like, 'Holy Cow. Look what just happened.'

Weiner says his business was struggling along with the economy, and a politician he says he'd voted for had embarrassed the state.

WEINER: I got annoyed. I was pissed off. And it's not often you get to take a public shot at a public figure, and actually can get away with it.

So Weiner took that public shot, with an entrepreneurial twist.

ambi: Next up, just going to shake this up...

His bar was soon serving up a pair of martinis: the Dirty Governor, and the Dirty Stinking Governor.

WEINER: You know, a dirty martini, there's nothing dirtier than Blagojevich I guess, so.

ambi: Pour the vodka right in.

That evening, in Blagojevich's neighborhood, cameras and reporters lined the streets as Patrick Tucker came home from work. The media would camp out there most days, until Blagojevich was removed from office.

TUCKER: Everything just went away, including his security detail. As I would walk by, there would always be a state patrol car right in front of his house. And the next day there was nothing. There were no cameras, there was no state patrol car, it was just quiet again.

For now, Blagojevich hosts a weekend radio show, and next week he's expected to take part in a debate at Columbia College to defend an Elvis movie.

Through his publicist - the former governor never answered our interview requests. He's pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him.

This summer, when he's scheduled to go trial, the media throng will no doubt return to Blagojevich's neighborhood. And sales may just pick up for Blagojevich-inspired martinis.

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