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Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2009 05:38 pm

Former guv inspires creativi-T

Finally, a growth industry in Illinois

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Bobbie Hahn had personal reasons for celebrating the impeachment of Rod Blagojevich, but she’s just one of hundreds of artsy entrepreneurs selling scandal tees via the Internet.
PHOTO BY DUSTY RHODES

Hooray, it’s T-shirt weather! Oh sure, the thermometer does not entirely agree, but trust me, we’ve never had more reasons to shuck the wooly turtlenecks and show off our tees.

See, all the pain and shame our state has suffered with our governor’s arrest, impeachment and subsequent talk-show circuit tour brought the irresistibly eccentric Rod Blagojevich to the attention of pop culture artists and opportunists everywhere, and apparently really revved up their creative juices.

Café Press, that clever company that allows anybody with a computer and half a brain to turn any uploaded image into anything from a T-shirt to a tote bag to a mug to a thong had, last we checked, about 700 different Blago-related designs. Many graphics feature some sort of Senate seat “for sale” scenario, such as a classified ad or an eBay screenshot. Many pair Blago with former-governor-turned-inmate George Ryan, under slogans such as “Illinois — Land of Corruption” and “The only state where the Governor makes the license plates.”

Some designers stretched Blagojevich’s name into something they thought was funny. Annoyovich. Insanevich. Corruptjevich. Bla-gone-evich. Blagotojailovich. Blah-jogger-vich. More than one, imagining Blago as a prison inmate, rhymed his name with a term that I’ll leave up to your imagination.

A few designers feature Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s concise description of Blago: “Cuckoo!” while others slam the man with his own words. Blago’s famous Dec. 8 pronouncement — “I’ve got nothing but sunshine hanging over me” — made it onto a few ironic tees. Another says, “Impeachment: It’s a bleeping golden thing.”

My personal favorite doesn’t even mention the governor. Plain white, covered in small black type, this shirt implies that the wearer is included for free “with your purchase of two or more state officials of equal or lesser value.”

A similar site, Zazzle.com, has shirts crediting Blago with “Putting the ‘Goober’ in Gubernatorial,” and a raft a variations on the riff, “I gave Gov. Rod Blagojevich a bribe, and all I got was this [expletive deleted] T-shirt.”

An eBay vendor in California is offering a shirt showing Blago in shades announcing the “I won’t resign World Tour 2009.” On the back, there’s a list of TV shows Blago appeared on, plus a quote from a Rudyard Kipling poem.

Brett Holt, a 24-year-old pilot and photographer from Wisconsin, came up with the most classic design I found online — a simple, stark silhouette of the governor’s hairdo, such as you might find in a paper doll kit or on the Mii menu of your kid’s Wii. The only words on the shirt: “The Blagojevich.” It’s available on RedBubble.com.

Bobbie Hahn, usually known for doing good with her Loving God Outloud ministry, got inspired to create her own Blago shirts in December, just as she was departing for Cancun with a group of 25 Springfieldians. She commissioned a comic-book-style portrait of Blagojevich, and emblazoned the word IMPEACHED across the top. Everywhere she wore the shirts — in airports, at the Cancun resort, and back home at Wal-Mart — people approached her wanting to buy the shirt. She even got orders from a few state officials (whose names she absolutely will not divulge) when she wandered into Saputo’s for dinner during the impeachment trial. She’s now selling her shirts at blahblahblago.com, and says she’s sold about 60 so far.

But even though she’s having fun modeling the tees, she says the reason she made them was no laughing matter. “I have friends who worked for the state who lost their jobs. When he was threatening to move the Department of Transportation, I heard horror stories,” she says. Worse, she had clients working toward recovery who lost drug treatment services due to the governor’s budget cuts. “I’m so glad he’s out of there,” she says. “He hurt so many people, and he just didn’t care.”

Blagojevich isn’t the only shirt star from the scandal. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has been a big seller for T-shirt maven Sheila Cameron, whose empire was founded on her hugely popular Free Katie design (inspired by watching Tom Cruise bounce on Oprah Winfrey’s couch). Fitzgerald’s 2005 indictment of Lewis “Scooter” Libby motivated Cameron to create a “Fitzie is my homeboy” design, and she never took it off her Web site, Sheilacameron.com. In December, she began getting orders from Illinois by the “hundreds,” she says.

“They were very popular gifts,” she says. “T-shirts, Christmas ornaments and mugs.”

The one player who hasn’t gotten his share of shirts is our new governor, Pat Quinn. I found only three Quinn tees; the cleverest plays off Blago’s defense with the turn, “The fix is Quinn.” But its creator, Mark Plocharczyk of Midlothian, Ill., says that despite being featured on Chicago television station WGN’s morning news show, he’s sold only one. And that was to his brother-in-law.

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