At the risk of sounding like Freud, none of this would have happened had Governor Blagojevich not lost sight of who he was or where he came from or, most importantly, whom he owed for his success. His relentless desire to shake down folks doing business with the state, his hunger to build the mightiest of political machines, his obsession to be the man, the kingmaker, the top pol in Illinois–it all stems from the fact that he would be nothing if not for alderman Richard Mell, and he knows it.
In 1988, when Blago was still a young man, he fell in love with Mell’s daughter Patti. And alderman Mell fell in love with Blago. It could be that Mell saw in Blago all the things he never had–boyish charm, an aw-shucks personality, the real possibility of higher office. I remember some of Mell’s allies telling me about it. They’d never seen anything quite like the old man’s infatuation with young Rod. You couldn’t tell him anything bad about Blago. He didn’t want to hear it–driving Blagojevich to the top was one of Mell’s top priorities.
Every step of the way, Mell was there for his son-in-law, dispatching his legion of patronage workers to bring in the vote when Blago ran for state rep in 1992, congress in 1996 and, of course, governor in 2002.
The betrayal was almost immediate. On election night Blagojevich thanked just about everyone except for Mell, and he immediately tried to set up his own political operation. In retrospect, I think Blagojevich’s purpose was twofold. He was making sure he wouldn’t have to depend on Mell for his next election. Beyond that, he had presidential aspirations, and he probably thought it would hurt his reformer’s image to have close ties to an old cuss from Chicago’s Democratic machine.
For some time, Mell wouldn’t talk about the betrayal. But it was only a matter of time before his allies started spilling the beans. I got a call in the spring of 2004 from Frank Avila, who set up a meeting with Dominic Longo, one of Mell’s top precinct captains, at a restaurant in Streeterville. As they gobbled up their food, they spilled their guts, laying out all the acts of betrayal Blagojevich had committed against his father-in-law. He’ll get his, Avila predicted.
So it seems.