If Chicago and Illinois voters were as thoughtful, thorough and responsible as the jurors that convicted Rod Blagojevich of corruption then we wouldn't have to be constantly putting our governors, aldermen and other public officials on trial.
If you saw the extraordinary post-trial interview with the jury, you can only respect them for the attitude with which they approached their difficult job. As I've said, I don't second-guess juries, but the Blagojevich jurors' reasoned responses to reporters' questions revealed something that gives me hope:
There is in Illinois a citizenry that understands the difference between politics and criminal behavior. Corruption, they said (reflecting U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's own observations about the Blago trial) is not/cannot be politics as usual. As much as I dislike the cliché, they said they were "sending a message" to all politicians that we understand the difference and we demand that you do too.
After watching several minutes of the interview, I felt refreshed and clean.
The jurors weren’t buying the “expert” view (as enunciated by a panelist on WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight”) that because Blagojevich wasn’t successful in extorting cash or jobs in exchange for his official actions, no crime was committed. Or that the famous tapes of Blagojevich plotting to cash in on his opportunities to appoint a U.S. Senator or extorting money from a children’s hospital—of all things—were irrelevant because the ex-governor was having a private conversation with this staff.
Twelve jurors--listening to all the evidence, following the judge’s instructions on the law and deliberating for days in private—were unanimous that Blagojevich’s actions did indeed step over the line that separates legitimate politics and criminal behavior.
Can we expect as much from Chicago and Illinois voters when they step into the voting booth?
Not as long as so many of us think that slipping our alderman or public official a little money under the table to secure a driveway permit or a pass on a public health inspection is how “things get done.” Top public officials might regard the jury’s message only as “You’ve got to be more careful when you put out your hand.” The rest of the practitioners of our unique culture of corruption will just continue as usual.
Fitzgerald is right when he says only a change in the public’s tolerance of graft will end the state’s epidemic of corruption. On that, the jury’s still out.