- The Washington Times - Monday, May 23, 2005

CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich was swept into office in 2002 on a vow to “shake up a system in Springfield that accepts corruption” — a promise that appealed to voters weary of the scandals that drove his predecessor from office.

Now, though, Mr. Blagojevich’s administration finds itself under investigation, suspected of some of the same practices that he promised to end, such as the trading of plum appointments and contracts for campaign contributions.

The governor has not been accused of any wrongdoing, but the accusations have taken a toll on his popularity among voters.

“I’m not prepared to say he’s dead meat as far as re-election is concerned. But he and his people have hurt themselves,” said Mike Lawrence, who was press secretary to former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar and is director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. “They need to get more serious about day-to-day management of government and get more serious about impropriety and wrongdoing.”

Since January, the Democrat from Chicago has been locked in a nasty family feud with his politician father-in-law, whose public accusations that a Blagojevich fundraiser traded jobs for campaign donations touched off an investigation by the Illinois attorney general and the Cook County prosecutor. The attorney general also began two other probes in recent months into accusations that tax dollars were mishandled by state agencies.

Mr. Blagojevich took office pledging to be the opposite of Republican Gov. George Ryan, who left office amid a corruption scandal and is awaiting trial on racketeering charges.

The governor has defended his administration and pointed the finger at his father-in-law for the investigation. At a press conference last week, Mr. Blagojevich boasted that he has the courage to make tough decisions and shrugged off the dropping poll numbers.

Some of Mr. Blagojevich’s Republican opponents and even those in his own party have faulted the way he has handled the criticism.

When the state auditor issued a report that accused the state’s main purchasing agency, the Department of Central Management Services, of being careless with tax dollars, Mr. Blagojevich initially brushed it off as “a prizefight between accountants.”

The report accused the department of ignoring safeguards when awarding contracts, paying improper expenses to companies and failing to back up its claims of cutting costs by hundreds of millions of dollars.

Democratic state Rep. Lou Lang argued that the administration’s response demonstrated a lack of regard for taxpayer money.

Last Wednesday, the agency’s departing director, Michael Rumman, told lawmakers he had been recommended for the post by another powerful Blagojevich fundraiser, Antoin “Tony” Rezko, who has a business relationship with Mr. Blagojevich’s wife, Patti.

Mrs. Blagojevich is a real-estate broker, and Mr. Rezko is a developer who has worked on various projects with her. But “her work has nothing to do with her husband,” said Cheryle Jackson, spokeswoman for the governor.

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