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Thursday, Jan. 27, 2005 08:30 am

Hacked off

Politics is a numbers game — and the numbers of votes, dollars, and favors are the only numbers that matter.

The boys who play politics at the street level never forget their numbers. They can tell you how many votes they pulled out of precinct 22 three elections ago, or how much money they raised for some nobody judge in ’96, or the name of their neighbor’s mother’s cousin that they helped out of that jam that one time.

And right now, many Chicago hacks are not too happy with Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The way they see it, they racked up good numbers for him in 2002, and, like bookies who have let a hard-luck gambler slide for too long, they’re tired of waiting for him to make good on his debts.

This was what was really at the heart of the noxious feud between Blagojevich and his father-in-law, Chicago Ald. Dick Mell.

Mell was so angry about being disrespected by the man he took from nothing and elevated to the highest job in the state that he said some things that almost got him sued by his son-in-law’s closest advisor. The alderman was forced to issue a retraction last week.

Mell’s public humiliation didn’t go over too well with many of his friends, and the same day Mell retracted his comments, a letter appeared in the Daily Southtown from one of Mell’s old lieutenants, Dominic Longo.

Longo is infamous in Chicago. He runs the Coalition for Better Government, which raises money and fields precinct workers for candidates all over Chicago’s northwest side. Longo was convicted in the 1980s for stuffing ballot boxes, and he’s been skewered by just about every political columnist in the city, but he has held several government jobs and his crew is still highly sought after by candidates in tough campaigns.

“Undoubtedly,” Longo wrote to the Southtown, “if it were not for the support of Ald. Dick Mell and the Coalition for Better Government, Blagojevich would have simply remained a rinky-dink attorney to this day.”

You won’t find many people who believe that Longo would use words like “undoubtedly.” He’s a “dem, deze, doze” kind of guy. “Rinky-dink,” yes. “Undoubtedly,” no. “I have no knowledge of none of that,” Longo told the Chicago Tribune last year when asked about allegations that some Teamsters were forced to contribute to the Coalition for Better Government or risk losing their jobs.

The Southtown confirmed that it was his letter, however, and they published it.

Longo dropped another bomb the next day. His attorney, Ivan Tomic, sent Blagojevich a registered letter demanding that the governor and his staff stop dissing Longo to reporters or face a defamation lawsuit.

But the real fun stuff was a couple of lines down. According to Tomic’s letter, Blagojevich “committed to making Dominic Longo a rich man” during an event after the 2002 primary campaign.

That would be the same Dominic Longo to whom Blagojevich promised that voters would have no place in his administration if he was elected. Blagojevich also swore in 2002 that Longo and the Coalition for Better Government were not part of his campaign team.

Tomic went on to write that it was Longo who introduced Blagojevich to Chris Kelly, one of the governor’s closest friends and the man who threatened to sue Dick Mell last week. The governor’s office refused comment.

Frank Avila Jr. is Tomic’s law partner. Longo was hired last year by Avila’s father, Metropolitan Water and Reclamation District commissioner Frank Avila Sr. Frank Jr. told the Sun-Times back then that Longo was hired at the request of Blagojevich chief of staff Lon Monk. Monk denied the allegation, and a bitter behind-the-scenes brawl ensued.

A Web site that regularly taunts the governor, the Rod Report (rodreport.com), is owned by Tony Joyce, an MWRD employee who works for Avila’s father. A photo of Blagojevich with his arm around Longo is prominently displayed on the site.

I have a feeling that the governor is gonna make the MWRD suffer for this.

Unfortunately for Longo, his name has been dragged through the mud so many times that almost nobody will have any sympathy for him now. And because Blagojevich obviously didn’t make Longo a “rich man” after the election, Longo hasn’t disclosed anything that could be considered illegal.

But the boys are definitely mad, and they “undoubtedly” know where many bones are buried. More to come soon.

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