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ILLINOIS CORRUPTION SCANDAL: PROFILE AND CHARGES

He campaigned as a reformer

The Illinois governor, who says he is 'always lawful,' promised to break away from politics as usual.

December 10, 2008|Joanna Lin | Lin is a Times staff writer.

Six years ago, Rod R. Blagojevich became the first Democrat to be elected governor of Illinois in 30 years, unseating what he called a Republican "legacy of corruption, mismanagement and lost opportunities."

Until his arrest Tuesday on federal corruption charges, the self-proclaimed "always lawful" Blagojevich had built a political career, in part, on fighting corruption. When he ran for governor, he touted his past as a state criminal prosecutor and promised to break away from politics as usual.

"A governor must be willing to take on the special interests, not carry their water," he said when he announced his candidacy for governor in 2001, at the North Side Chicago steel mill where his Serbian immigrant father once worked. "It means shaking up a system that serves itself instead of the people."

Photogenic, 45 years old and the son-in-law of a powerful Chicago alderman, he was elected with 52% of the vote. As a congressman, Blagojevich, who turned 52 today, had amassed a loyal following of Democrats who saw him as a reformer.

The governor enjoyed approval ratings of 55% his first year on the job, according to Chicago Tribune polls. But public opinion began to sour by his second year in office as Blagojevich clashed with and pointed fingers at other elected officials and institutions. Allegations of corruption also curbed his popularity.

Recent polls by the Tribune put the governor's approval rating at 13% -- even lower than the 23% of his scandal-marred predecessor, George Ryan, in his final weeks in office. Ryan has since been convicted on federal corruption charges and is in prison.

Public disdain for Ryan -- or at least his name -- seemed to help Blagojevich, now in his second term, win the governorship. His GOP opponent was Jim Ryan, the then state attorney general, and Blagojevich routinely linked Jim Ryan with the unpopular George Ryan. The two are not re- lated.

"How can you replace one Ryan with another Ryan and call that change?" he asked voters in 2002. "You want change? Elect a guy named Blagojevich."

Polls before the election indicated voter confusion over which Ryan was which; another showed that 9 in 10 voters said government corruption was an important factor in deciding between the candidates.

Calling the governorship a lifelong dream, Blagojevich said during his campaign that although his name might not roll off the tongue, "I believe I have something else: I can unite this state."

And perhaps Blagojevich has done just that: A Tribune poll in October found that more than half of his own party disapproved of his job performance, as did 83% of independents. Three out of four voters said the governor has not kept his promise to end corruption.

And what about that name? As he has acknowledged, one challenge was teaching it to voters.

"How do you say his name?" one of his campaign websites asked. "Bla-GOYA-vich." His supporters sometimes chanted it -- syllable by syllable -- at campaign appearances.

On the stump, he predicted that if voters sent him to Springfield, "more people will be able to say 'Blagojevich' than ever before."

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joanna.lin@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Rod R. Blagojevich

Age: 52

Family: Wife Patricia; two daughters.

Education: bachelor's degree, Northwestern University, 1979; law degree, Pepperdine University, 1983.

Experience: Elected Illinois governor 2002, reelected 2006; served in the U.S. House of Representatives from Illinois' 5th District 1997-2002; served in the Illinois House from a North Side Chicago district 1992-96; assistant Cook County state's attorney, prosecuting criminal cases.

Quote: "I don't care whether you tape me privately or publicly. I can tell you that whatever I say is always lawful."

Source: Associated Press

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