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updated: 3/3/2011 5:33 PM

A modern day Valjean? It could happen

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I attended about one-third of Rod Blagojevich's first trial (RB-I). It was educational and entertaining as well as disheartening and at times frightening. In all honesty, the Aug. 17 postverdict press scrum featuring Blagojevich, Sam Adam Sr. and Jr., and U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald was, in a political junkie's world, sensational. Why? It was Chicago-style macho politics in the raw.

Though much has been written about the trial (including by me in this newspaper) little has been said about how personal this Blagojevich/Fitzgerald battle has become. I seriously doubt that any federal court defendant's lawyer, after his client was found guilty on one charge (OK, half of one charge) and saw a hung jury on all the other counts (many 11-1 for conviction), ever labeled the U.S. attorney nuts.

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The real tragedy of RB-I was not the deals or attempted deals attributed to Blagojevich - and in all honesty I am not deeply bothered by the legal angle that attempted extortion is a criminal offense. As I have written before, I view the former governor as a modern day Ralph Kramden of "Honeymooners" TV fame. On many of these tapes Blagojevich says things that are totally irrational as he explains his hopes, dreams and fears to his brother and several aides.

Moreover, I am not shocked that Blagojevich spent a good deal of his time plotting fundraising schemes. I would suggest if all leading politicians in the country were wiretapped continuously like Blagojevich - though the political language and political reality would be quite different - the game plan mantra would be the same: "I need more money for my campaign war chest." Our system compels major candidates to wheel and deal in order to raise big bucks so they can produce "paid media" on television.

What does bother me about the Blagojevich circus (yes, I am the person who suggested that they change the name of the federal building at 219 S. Dearborn from Dirksen to Barnum and Bailey) is that he was a bad governor. It is tragic and sad 1) that he was unable to live and work in Springfield when the General Assembly was in session; 2) that from the outset he wanted to demonstrate his "testicular virility" in dealing with longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan; and, worst of all, 3) that he could not use his considerable political skills to be a reliable team player with legislative leaders.

The sorry state of Illinois' fiscal condition cannot be blamed on one person. Rather the blame can be spread to many - the national economy, the General Assembly, public employee unions, lobbyists, the media and, yes, Illinois voters (remember Blagojevich won both his gubernatorial elections by landslides). However, the governor is captain of the ship, and commanders must lead, unify and listen. Blagojevich fell short on all three.

Now comes RB-II. In January the governor will be flying solo, sans brother, in his retrial with or without his current lawyers. Without question Team Fitzgerald will pull out all stops to nail the man who mockingly claimed victory against them even though the final score was zero acquittals, one guilty and 23 no decisions.

Speculation is rampant on how RB-II will differ from RB-I. Will the prosecution have new witnesses, play new tapes, submit new evidence? One thing is for certain, Fitzgerald will pay extra close attention to jury selection - a critical factor in RB-I.

What about Blagojevich's chances to win round two? As a professor and not a prophet, and given what I have watched and heard since the verdict, the following is a distinct possibility: Think Les Miserables. There is an excellent chance that the former governor will be offering his version of "Do You Hear the People Sing" as he portrays himself as a modern-day Jean Valjean he dueling to the death his alleged persecutor Javert - aka Patrick Fitzgerald.

• Paul Green is the director of the Institute for Politics at Roosevelt University in Chicago and Schaumburg.

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