We begin a multi-part look at key turning points in the political career of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich:
1980: Blagojevich meets Richard Nixon During the summer before law school, Blagojevich and a friend awake at 4:30am on their first visit to New York so that Blagojevich can stand watch outside the home of former President Richard M. Nixon, in the hopes of meeting him and securing an autograph.‚ As Blagojevich told Chicago Magazine’s Carol Felsenthal, he’s a fan of presidential history and Nixon in particular.
1983: Gets job with Chicago Alderman Edward Vrdolyak Thanks to help from his father, Blagojevich begins work in the law office of then-powerful Chicago Alderman Ed Vrdolyak as a law clerk during the infamous Council Wars era.
1986: Joins Cook County State’s Attorney’s office Blagojevich gets a job as an Assistant State’s Attorney in Cook County during Richard M. Daley’s tenure as Cook County State’s Attorney. Works as a traffic court prosecutor and on felony weapons and domestic abuse cases.
1990: Marries Patti Mell Two years after meeting her at a fundraiser for powerful Chicago Alderman Dick Mell, Blagojevich marries Mell’s daughter Patti.
November 3, 1992: Wins election to Illinois House With advice and support from his new father-in-law, Chicago Alderman Dick Mell, Blagojevich challenges and defeats incumbent Democrat Myron Kulas to win a seat in the Illinois House of Representatives.
November 3, 1996: Elected to U.S. House After two terms in the Illinois General Assembly Blagojevich defeats Republican Michael Flannagan to win back the 5th U.S. Congressional District Seat for the Democrats. That’s the same seat long held by powerful Chicago Democrat and former Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee Dan Rostenkowski. It’s also the same seat later held by now Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.
May 1, 1999: Joins Rev Jesse Jackson to negotiate release of POWs Accompanies the Reverend Jesse Jackson on trip to Yugoslavia that successfully negotiates the release of 3 U.S. soldiers held prisoner there. As part of the negotiations, Blagojevich meets with Jackson and with Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosivic. Trip captures international news and raises Blagojevich’s public profile.