Blagojevich Trial: So Who Really Runs Illinois? | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

Blagojevich Trial: So Who Really Runs Illinois?

Lawyers for Rod Blagojevich next week will begin to present their defense in the ex-governor's corruption trial. The prosecution's case included not just accusations of legal wrongdoing, but also of a failure of leadership. Blagojevich's governing style was put on trial. We take a look at how a governor's approach to the job could make a difference to the rest of us.

Phone calls secretly recorded by the FBI capture a governor who desperately didn't want to be governor anymore, and was looking to leverage his way out.

BLAGOJEVICH: I'd like to get the (expletive) out of here.
JOHN HARRIS: Well, that's a whole different...if that's the objective.
BLAGOJEVICH: Yeah, the objective is to get a good gig over there.

Long before his final weeks in office, witnesses have testified, Blagojevich was AWOL from his job. Deputy Governor Bob Greenlee said Blagojevich was in the office only 2 to 8 hours a week. Greenlee said if he'd waited for the governor's go-ahead before making decisions, "The state would have ground to a halt." A top aide earlier in the administration, Bradley Tusk, testified he often couldn't get ahold of Blagojevich to find out whether to sign a bill or veto it, so he made the decisions on his own.

That kind of thing didn't happen when Jim Thompson or Jim Edgar led Illinois, according to a Republican state senator with gubernatorial ambitions of his own, Kirk Dillard.

DILLARD: Even a bill that changed nothing more than a comma required the personal approval of Jim Thompson and Jim Edgar, and they physically held the file, looked and reviewed the file before they said up or down on any piece of legislation.

Dillard was a top aide to both those Republican governors, and says the two men approached the job a bit differently. Edgar was more involved in the "intricacies of state government." Thompson was more of a delegator.

Another difference, says Dillard, was apparent during meetings. Edgar wasn't shy about having to tell someone "no" when confronted with a request, leaving staff like Dillard to smooth things over.

DILLARD: Jim Thompson was more wiley. People would leave Jim Thompson's office thinking that he was with them, when in fact he may not have committed to them whatsoever.

Both Thompson and Edgar left office on their own terms. The next governor, fellow Republican George Ryan, did not, facing a federal investigation that'd later send him to prison. Unlike Blagojevich, Ryan got along relatively well with lawmakers. Dennis Culloton worked as Ryan's spokesman.

CULLOTON: He may not have been a master of details, like perhaps the reputations were for Governor Thompson and Governor Edgar, but he was very involved in the responsibility of passing a state budget.

...And also controversial issues like the death penalty, which Ryan dug into as the federal investigation heated up, Culloton says, a "form of therapy" for the governor. Culloton says Ryan's leadership style on those items was above board, motivated by good government and progressive interests.

CULLOTON: But perhaps on the day-to-day things, perhaps on some of the things involving some of his friends, he probably did not take the same progressive approach, and that ultimately, I think, served him poorly.

Likewise, lawyers for Rod Blagojevich say their client fell victim to friends and advisors who didn't have his best interests at heart. And they've described him as a "big picture guy and not a nitty-gritty detail guy."
 
And that brings us to two qualities people want in their governor: good management and good leadership. Barbara Kellerman is a lecturer at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

KELLERMAN: Management is about how to administer the day-to-day operations of the organization for which you're responsible. Leadership is really something else quite different. It's about reaching out, motivating, inspiring and so forth and so on.

Prosecutors and their witnesses have accused Blagojevich of failing on both counts.

KELLERMAN: Certainly being in absentia, unavailable, not present, not around, not having some sense of what's really going on in your administration is a sign - if not of bad leadership, certainly of bad management.

A good leader/manager, Kellerman says, will delegate to top advisors, but be certain the advisors will report back before major decisions are made. And if a governor himself gets too entrenched in the details, and micromanages...

KELLERMAN: ...he or she is likely - I'm not saying it is inevitably the case, but likely - to be less able to lead wisely and well in a way that the people really require.

And there are signs that could be a pitfall for Illinois' current governor, Pat Quinn. A state employee who's worked closely with both the Quinn and Blagojevich administrations says, "Where Rod Blagojevich held himself far removed from the day to day details of state government, Pat Quinn is steeped in them." The observer concluded, "There are times when a birds-eye view might be more helpful."

Music Button:  Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood, "Little Walter Rides Again", from the CD Out Louder, (Indirecto)

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