The Story of Rod Blagojevich’s Rise and Fall

In anticipation of our January 24th Media Burn mini-fundraiser featuring a screening of “Lincoln is Crying” with some of Chicago’s top political experts, we’re sharing some of our favorite videos about corruption in Illinois politics. In this video, journalist Elizabeth Brackett tells the story of  former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s quick rise to power and fall to disgrace.

In 2009, venerable PBS Newshour and WTTW-Chicago journalist Elizabeth Brackett (1941-2018) published Pay to Play: How Rod Blagojevich Turned Political Corruption Into a National Sideshow. In it, she details the rise of this darling of the Democratic Party with presidential ambitions, as well as his quick descent into the corruption endemic to Illinois politics.

The journey begins with Brackett receiving a seemingly impossible challenge: a publisher wanted to know if she could write a book on Blagojevich — and finish it in six weeks.

She took a month off of work to dive into the book. She’d previously made a short documentary about Blagojevich in 2002 when he first ran for office, so she had already extensively interviewed his family and knew about his upbringing. She wanted to try to understand how someone could first succeed, then crash and burn in quick succession.

A large reason Blagojevich succeeded in politics was because of his massively influential father-in-law, Chicago Alderman Dick Mell. When Blagojevich was elected, it had been a quarter of a century since Illinois had a Democrat governor, so residents had hopes for reforms under this new office.

Instead, it took only three months to show that reform was not on the way. “Pay to play” politics on steroids is what began to take place. People were astonished that just after putting former Governor George Ryan in jail, another cartoonishly corrupt politician managed to be elected.

Meanwhile Blagojevich wasn’t content on being governor alone — he wanted to become president of the United States. The rise of another young Illinois star, Senator Barack Obama, made this dream seem possible. 

But Blagojevich’s obsession with running for president became his downfall. His focus soon turned to raising as much money as possible for his campaign, using all the dirty tricks of pay-to-pay politics.

The rest, as we say, is history.

Want to learn more about Rod Blagojevich and the many other crooked pols from Illinois history? Join us for a funny and fascinating screening and discussion of “Lincoln is Crying” on Jan 24 in downtown Chicago. Tickets and details at:



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