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Thursday, Jan. 20, 2005 06:04 pm

What setup?

Gov. Rod Blagojevich tends to bring out the worst in people. There is such a strong feeling of ill will against him among all stripes of political insiders and observers in this state that they'll believe almost anything.

Two solid years of the governor deliberately attacking people who didn't deserve it, attacking people who deserved it but in a manner that was so over the top that it wasn't believable, repeatedly saying one thing and doing another, and mugging for the cameras with one PR stunt after another have combined to grate on a whole lot of nerves.

Even the governor'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.

That brings us to the governor's father-in-law, Chicago Ald. 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 started screaming about how the governor was on a "vendetta" to ruin him and his family and saying that Blagojevich was a phony reformer who would "throw anyone under the bus" to get ahead politically and even accusing Blagojevich's top advisor of soliciting large campaign contributions in exchange for state board and commission slots, I wasn't too surprised.

Mell is not what you would call a stoic type. He is 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.

Imagine my astonishment when many reporters and others speculated 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 over 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 an article in the Chicago Tribune, not on any firsthand knowledge.

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 workhorse and less like a show horse. Yes, he has a lot of money in his campaign account, but money isn't everything. If it were, Blair Hull or Jack Ryan would now be in the U.S. Senate.

And everyone else needs to take a step back. Cynicism is a disease that clouds 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.

To read more about the governor's political mentor Ald. Richard Mell, see "The governor-in-law" [Ben Joravsky, Jan. 9, 2003].

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