Monday, May 12, 2008

The attractiveness of Tony Rezko

As this is written, closing arguments are underway in the corruption trial of Antonin "Tony" Rezko in the Federal Court here in Chicago.

As a life-long, cynical Chicagoan I suspect that Mr. Rezko may be guilty of all sorts of crimes. As a lawyer, though, I don't know whether any of the actual pending charges against him may be proved. That is for the jury to decide, based on the evidence presented in court. I only know what I've read in the papers -- and that's not evidence.

But this is not an exercise in handicapping Mr. Rezko's fate. There seems to be a belief among the pundit class that the Government's star witness against him, Stuart Levine, came off so badly in court that Rezko may walk. But I claim no special insight into whether he will or he won't.

I do think, though, I have a clue into why he was so attractive to political candidates in Chicago... like embattled Governor Rod Blagojevich, whose name has been freely bandied about during Rezko's trial, and Senator Barack Obama, whose name has also come up, though not nearly as often.

It costs money to run for office. Rezko could raise money. Lots of money. He was willing to back less well known candidates (Obama, for example).

When I ran for judge, well over a decade ago now, raising money was the single most distasteful thing I had to do. I recall hearing a judge speak recently about getting elected, and he said how wonderful it was that people came out of nowhere to support him. It was a welcome surprise, he said, how people he barely knew became his biggest source of strength.

Nobody came out of anywhere when I ran for judge. But I can't help but wonder... if someone like Mr. Rezko had materialized when I was a candidate... would he and his contributions have been so welcome that I might not inquire... at least not right away... into why he was so generous?

Of course, most of you reading this would probably say that you'd see right through him, that nobody offers something for nothing, and you'd slap him and his fistful of dollars away. But most of you reading this have never run for office and have never faced the prospect of raiding your own hard-earned savings or stressing hard-earned friendships by asking for donations.

I have no sympathy for corruption. And I'd like to think I'd see through a Tony Rezko, too, and keep him at arm's length. But it's got to be an awful temptation for someone with enough self-confidence to seek elective office to think that the donor could be controlled or 'handled', to think that his insistence that he was only interested in 'good government' was really sincere, to see only the public plaudits heaped on the donor and ignore any whisperings about what might lay behind the smiling face... until the subpoenas begin to fly and your own career has been destroyed....

I have no sympathy for corruption. But evil doesn't always advertise. Sometimes temptation comes with a smile of seeming friendship and generosity. Sometimes when things are too good to be true... they are to good to be true.


Jean-Luc Picard said...

Tony isn't exactly the kind of friend I'd want!

Hilda said...

I always wondered why some judges are elected by the general public. I don't know these people, so what I always wind up doing is voting for whoever the Miami Herald tells me to - at least they interview them.

Patti said...

Blagojevich is not an easy name to bandy about!

I really don't know how else to comment here.