The buzz around town is Blago and Burge, and I had the dubious pleasure of seeing each of them this week. Both men are fighting for their lives from charges of abusing their power; one with an avaricious bank account, the other with a baton.
I was at the courthouse to watch the trial of former Chicago Police Lieutenant Jon Burge. Michael McDermott, a former detective under Burge, was expected to be an excellent prosecution witness since he had testified at a grand jury that he saw Burge point a gun at a suspect and pull a typewriter bag over his head in order to get a confession. But at trial, Burge in front of him, McDermott’s appearance was more confrontational than expected. He wasn’t sure the gun was actually pointed at the suspect, he said, and he wasn’t sure it was a typewriter bag; he wasn’t even certain Burge had pulled it over the suspect. Sounding near tears, McDermott accused the prosecutor of threatening his family, his job and his pension if he didn’t testify. Assistant U.S. Attorney April Perry was unmoved, asking him sarcastically, “You didn’t have a gun pointed to your head, did you?”
Witnessing this trial should have been enough excitement, but what happened after in the lobby after was more fascinating. Or possibly just more surreal. While I was speaking to family members of suspects interrogated by Burge, the former guv strutted in with his defense team. I’d met Rod Blagojevich once before, maybe eight years ago, but didn’t expect him to remember. Yet there he was, striding toward me, arms outstretched. I froze like a deer in the cross-hairs. To no avail. Soon, he was greeting me, then wrapping his arms around me in a powerful hug while a bevy television cameras captured the moment (and flushed away any political aspirations I thankfully never had).
When he had released me, I said hello to his wife and watched as Blago engaged some onlookers in conversation. “It was a good day today!” he said. (At trial that day prosecutors played taped conversations between Blago and Lon Monk, his friend from days of yore. “…[G]ive US the f*** money,” Monk says in the tape, describing a conversation with a race track owner. Prosecutors claim the tapes show how Monk, Blago and others set out to shakedown people for illegal campaign contributions). “A great day!” Blago said.
Detective Jon Burge had been serious and somber in court, looking like he longed for the baton back in his fist. Blago, however, was a freshly-crowned beauty queen—tanned, glowing, fit and beaming with what appeared to be genuine happiness. I peered closer. How did he do it? How could someone be so joyful while facing odds that even Vegas wouldn’t touch? Granted, the man has been called a classic narcissist (and far too many other names that I won’t put to pen), but surely even narcissists have bad days, bleak days, especially when they’re facing decades in a penitentiary. And yet look at that bliss.
Later, I asked my office manager, Carol, what she thought. Carol runs a business called Positive Focus that inspires people to envision the world through a positive lens thereby creating a life of fulfillment and passion (and who, by the way, often sponsors “free hug” days). I expected Carol to say that Blago was a true testament to the concept that choosing to be happy, regardless of what’s going on in your life, will empower you and free you.
Instead she commented she sincerely doubted that would free the former guv. “I wonder,” she said, “if Burge would have felt better with a hug from Blago?”