Ever since Election Day, President-elect Barack Obama's transition had been, like his campaign, a model of focus and efficiency. That all changed on Dec. 9, thanks to a fellow politician from Illinois who allegedly tried to take advantage of Obama's historic victory. From the moment that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was accused of trying to sell Obama's senate seat to the highest bidder, among other corrupt acts, the President-elect's well-oiled machine found itself distracted and put on the defensive by the scandal. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald stressed more than once that there was no evidence Obama or any of his emissaries had done anything improper, but that didn't stop the media from asking repeated questions and Republicans from trying to make hay of the revelations from Obama's old town.
The Blagojevich case left Chicago and the whole state of Illiinois reeling. Just as the city was celebrating its hometown boy's unlikely victory, the shocking charges against the already unpopular Governor provided uncomfortable reminders of the Windy City's reputation for cronyism and shady backroom dealing. The wiretap conversations that the Feds presented showed a virtual caricature of a corrupt and arrogant machine pol, barking out swear words and viewing his power to appoint a senator as a prize to be auctioned off all while presumably aware that he was already being investigated by the Feds. Blagojevich denied he had done anything illegal and refused to resign, sparking a debate about the fine line between political horse trading and criminal activity. But the voters of Illinois, along with the rest of the country, appeared to reach their verdict quickly. It wasn't just that Blagojevich quickly become the butt of late night jokes, mocked for his crude language, manicured mop of black hair or first appearance in court wearing a track suit. It was that the Governor who came into office six years ago promising to clean up his state's culture of corruption ended up looking guilty of the same behavior that had landed his predecessor, George Ryan, in prison by apparently practicing the very brand of dirty politics that Obama had pledged to do away with.