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Illinois Statehouse dominated by Blagojevich, Daley and Emanuel in 2011

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This year, the Illinois Statehouse was dominated by three people who technically are not part of it – a former governor and the out-going and in-coming mayors of Chicago. In an odd year even for Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, Richard M. Daley and Rahm Emanuel overshadowed the actions and efforts of Illinois’ governor, state legislature, agencies and other assorted players.

Blagojevich’s impact was easy to understand. The only impeached governor in the state’s history was re-tried on 20 federal charges in 2011 after being found guilty on one in 2010. Leading up to trial, the journalist’s gift that kept on giving did not disappoint. Although Blagojevich preened in front of any camera near him to sway public opinion in his favor it didn’t work. On June 27, 2011, he was found guilty on 17 of the 20 counts and was sentenced to 14 years in prison on the 18 total guilty counts earlier this month.

Blagojevich should also be credited with causing something most thought would never happen, the downfall of William Cellini. On November 1st of this year, the ultimate Springfield insider was found guilty on one count of aiding and abetting bribery and one count of conspiracy to extort. Even though a number of Blagojevich’s cabal saw their demise, the “political juice” of Tony Rezko, Stuart Levine, Chris Kelly and Lon Monk combined pale to the clout Cellini held.

The other two dominant players are inter-twined. Richard M. Daley was the longest serving mayor in the history of the City of Chicago, serving from April 1989 to May 2011 (which broke the record held by his father, Richard J. Daley, who served from April 1955 to December 1976). The junior Daley’s shocking announcement in late 2010 that he would not seek another term immediately became the most talked about subject in the Illinois Statehouse. The thought of him not running Chicago bested the talk of ticking-time bomb pension obligations, late payments to vendors and even Blagojevich. His presence, even as a lame-duck, hovered over the capital and was expected loom over the Illinois Statehouse long after he stepped down. But that totally changed when his replacement emerged.

Instead of selecting a typical, from-the-ranks, politico such as Gery Chicago or Rev. James Meeks to replace Daley, the voters of Chicago elected a national, political, rock star, the President of the United States’ Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel. Emanuel literally “bum rushed” the Illinois Statehouse and was working the phones between the 312 and 217 area codes before he was even inaugurated. After technically only being mayor for three weeks, he helped push through Chicago education reform, workers compensation reform, Illinois Dream Act and Chicago casino legislation in Springfield. In less than a month, he became a true force to be reckoned with in the state capitol - and then it happened.

The casino victory became tainted and later moot after Governor Quinn essentially put a “poison pill” into the deal by demanding that horse racing tracks could not have slot machines. This created a “Jenga” effect because it made the shaky coalition of votes needed to pass the legislation crumble.

In 2012, the Emanuel/Quinn relationship will be interesting to watch. Can they agree on a new casino deal? Will Quinn block something else Emanuel wants? If Quinn does, will Emanuel take the gloves off? And, if there is a skirmish between them, will Illinois Democratic Party head and Speaker of the House Michael Madigan take sides, referee or just let them duke it out? For this dynamic alone, 2012 may be just as interesting as 2011 in the Illinois Statehouse.

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