Governor Rod Blagojevich tends to bring out the worst in people.
A good example of this would be a malicious and false rumor that made the rounds about the governor a couple of months ago. My phone rang off the hook for days as people called to fill me in about the latest variation on the theme. Every political reporter in the state was chasing the phantom, even after they all ran into complete dead ends.
I eventually realized that an enormous number of people desperately wanted the rumor to be true. There is such a strong feeling of ill will against Governor Blagojevich among all stripes of political insiders and observers in this state that they'll believe almost anything, including a rumor that almost nobody would immediately consider true if it was spread about someone else. To this day, some people still think the rumor is factual, including at least one investigative reporter who was once deceived by the governor's office on an unrelated matter and who risks blowing his credibility if he continues down this path.
Two solid years of the governor deliberately attacking people who didn't deserve it, or attacking people who deserved it but in a manner that was so over the top that it wasn't believable, or repeatedly saying one thing and doing another (like claiming to be a reformer while perpetuating, even perfecting, lots of "business as usual") and constantly mugging for the cameras with one PR stunt after another about one tiny proposal after another has all combined to grate on a whole lot of nerves.
Even the guv's stock explanation for the animosity - that his detractors are simply upset about his reform efforts - has driven some decent, honorable folks stark raving mad with fury.
And that brings us to the governor's father-in-law, Chicago Alderman Dick Mell.
Mell has privately griped since his son-in-law was elected that the kid won't listen to him or show any gratitude for Mell's long years of moving Blagojevich up the political ladder. So when Mell lost his temper this month and sta rted screaming about how the governor was on a "vendetta" to ruin him and his family, and that Blagojevich was a phony reformer who would "throw anyone under the bus" to get ahead politically, and even accused Blagojevich's top advisor of soliciting large campaign contributions in exchange for state board and commission slots, I wasn't too surprised.
Alderman Mell is not what you would call a stoic type. He's infamous for wearing his emotions on his sleeve, so most of us figured it was only a matter of time before he flipped his lid in public about the constant infighting. And when he did, I, for one, wasn't all that surprised.
Imagine my astonishment when the first reaction by many reporters and others was that Mell and Blagojevich had cooked up this little spat to generate more positive publicity for the governor.
The suspicion found its way into the middle of several news stories and spread through the Internet like wildfire.
No way was this a setup. Anyone who knows the behind the scenes situation has long suspected that the Mell pressure cooker would eventually explode. And you don't get positive press for your son-in-law by accusing his administration of committing multiple felonies. The fact that the Illinois Attorney General and the Cook County State's Attorney are now both conducting wide-ranging investigations into the governor's appointments and hiring practices is proof enough that this couldn't have been a setup.
I don't often defend the governor, and I won't do it here, either, except to say that Mell was most likely blowing off steam when he made the allegations about selling board and commission seats. He later admitted that he based his charges on a newspaper article, not from any firsthand experience.
The governor needs to realize soon that this vast cynicism about him will only get worse if he doesn't start behaving more like a work horse instead of a show horse. Yes, he has a lot of money in his campaign account, but money isn't everything. If it was, Blair Hull or Jack Ryan would now be the newest US Senator from Illinois.
And everyone else needs to take a step back. Cynicism is a disease that clouds the judgment. It can lure people into hurling all sorts of wild accusations that only end up making the target look good. The governor's record speaks for itself. There's no need to peddle dark fantasies.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at capitolfax.blogspot.com.