OK, Illinoisans: We've had our moments/hours in the spotlight

Ed Murnane Feb. 1, 2009, 2:21am

I was born in Chicago and I have been a legal resident of Illinois for 94% of my life -- only a stint in Washington interrupted. I love the city and the state.

It's usually fun and exciting to have our state and our largest city in the world's spotlight. The Chicago Bears in a Super Bowl. The Cubs and White Sox making serious runs at baseball championships.

The string of Nobel prizes awarded to University of Chicago professors (82, at last count). The world's first self-sustained nuclear reaction at the U of C in 1942. The site of more political conventions than any other city.

Illinois is the birthplace of Ronald Reagan and proudly is the adopted home of President Barack Obama. Chicagoans will learn to live with the inconvenience of the Obama family returning to their South Side home every so often. Traffic jams and tighter security won't be so bad that local residents won't want it.

And most Illinoisans will celebrate if the International Olympic Committee announces next October that Chicago will be the host of the 2016 Olympic Games.

But most Illinoisans also wish they had never heard of Rod Blagojevich and they shudder at the spectacle he has become and the further deterioration of Illinois' reputation that Blagojevich has caused. This is a state that has one former governor behind bars at the present time, and the removal of Blagojevich from office last week may be only a prelude to Illinois having a second former governor behind bars within months.

I wrote recently about how depressing it is to travel away from Illinois and to have the first question asked of you be something like, "What's going on out there?"

Last week was a disaster. It started bad and got worse. It was bad enough that the Illinois Senate was charged with hearing the impeachment charges against Blagojevich, but it became worse when the governor himself took his circus on the road and a fawning national news media helped make him an even more curious "celebrity."

And it all helped direct the attention of the national media on Illinois and how dysfunctional our leadership can be. The warm glow of approval we gained from Barack Obama is chilled by the Blagojevich fiasco.

Blagojevich played games until the very end, making a futile grandstand play by showing up in the Senate chamber Thursday after the case had been made. His effectiveness was shown by the unanimous vote to remove him from office, even while he was making his way back to Chicago at state expense.

Fortunately, this clown act has now ended, just as the real production of the "other" "Wicked" ended in Chicago last week.

But the reputation of our state is damaged once again and so many of the wounds have been self-inflicted. As I watched the impeachment trial last week, I looked at the Senators sitting as an "impeachment tribunal" before the Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court and realized that more than half of the Senator-jurors probably voted for Rod Blagojevich at least twice, and several voted for him three or four times, when he ran for governor or for state representative or for congressman.

But while they may be his "enablers," most of those on the other side of the aisle voted for the last governor who is behind bars, George Ryan, and maybe three or four times each when he ran for state representative and lieutenant governor and secretary of state and governor.

Neither party in Illinois can claim the "holier than thou" award.

Our state is in need of help and I'm not sure if the people who voted "yes" to impeach Blagojevich in the House of Representatives or who voted "yes" in the Senate to remove him are the ones who will provide it.

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