Blago 2.0: To Watch, or Not to Watch?

(Image courtesy of Andrew Ciscel/Flickr)

One of our BGA interns, Emily Jurlina, ran the Boston Marathon on Monday. Folks in the office tracked her progress online, and at about the halfway point, her digital blip stalled. She ended up finishing in just over 5 hours, way off her typical pace of around 3 1/2. So what happened? Here’s what she told us last night, over Facebook: “Today I ran my slowest marathon time ever—but I’ve never been more proud of myself. Excruciating leg cramps would not defeat me. I write you now as a BOSTON MARATHON FINISHER.”

We say Good for you, Emily, you made us proud.

Emily’s story is timely, and poignant, because here at the BGA we’re feeling a bit cramped and fatigued from the marathon that is the Blagojevich case, and we’re unsure whether we have the juice to track it through to the “end.” Many of you will remember how closely I followed the first trial because it was a “teaching moment,” an unprecedented inside look at how government worked or didn’t work at the highest level. I argued that we were getting a rare glimpse at the “sausage making,” and we had to use the moment to figure out what needed changing if state government was ever going to serve the public, not the public officials. We also wanted to know where corruption with a small “c” ended and corruption with a big “C” began. The former is simply unethical, dishonest government. The latter is illegal. Unfortunately the verdict of the deadlocked jury left the question hanging.

Round two starts this week, with jury selection Wednesday. The BGA was lucky enough to receive a gold-colored press pass to the trial—literally, we got this thing, and it’s…golden. And while we don’t have the resources to devote to another round of Blago 24-7, we will be following Blago 2.0 closely. Why? Because fatigue fuels apathy and inattention, and that can lead to corruption, paving the way for the next line of crooked Chicago officials. Our job is to watch—to shine a light on government and hold public officials accountable. We believe optimistically that it’s making a difference, as Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle rolls out a reform agenda, Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel promises to do the same in Chicago, and the Springfield pols dip their toes into the reform waters on thorny issues like education, medicaid, workers compensation and honest budgeting.

Much of the Blagojevich trial will certainly be repetitive, but there may be a couple more “teaching moments” that we don’t want to miss. It is also important to remind people, even in abbreviated fashion, that we have to be vigilant if we hope to avoid electing more Blago-like politicians who are obsessed with fundraising and post-government jobs for themselves and their spouses, who only spend a few hours a week in their offices, and have to be tracked down or coaxed out of closets to deal with important matters.

And so, like Emily said, it’s okay to finish tired and cramped, as long as you finish. So we’ll finish watching the Blagojevich trial because it’s part of our BGA mission.

We hope you agree.

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