I missed what might have been a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo outside of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s house Wednesday.
Blago was standing on his front porch, just before turning himself over to the federal correctional system, shaking hands with well-wishers and signing autographs like the reality TV star he is.
He was stretching over an iron balustrade to do this. He stretched so far, I thought he might fall into the enormous crowd of fans and media that were blocking the streets outside his home. It was a chaotic scene, with helicopters buzzing in the sky, TV cameras bumping into heads, and people crawling all over each other to get to Blago. “Free our governor,” supporters chanted.
So here was the shot I missed: Blago crouched down to talk to some TV reporters through the bars of his balustrade. As he did this, he put both hands on the bars.
“Whoa, I don’t like the way that looks,” he said aloud to himself, and jumped up before I could get the shot.
He looked just like he’s probably going to look for the next 14 years as inmate No. 40892-424. But I missed what might have been the very first photo of him clutching the bars. I caught only his very sudden leap to a more dignified pose, and, alas, the Pulitzer Prize for Blago news photography was missed by only fractions of a second.
Yes, for me, this is one of those fish-that-got-away stories. But it also shows Blago is already on the path to reform. He was about to do something that could be portrayed as incriminating, and he caught himself.
I am proud of him.
If only he had said, “Whoa, I don’t like the way that sounds,” when the FBI was wiretapping his phone. He might not be where he is today.
I have grown fond of Blago after covering parts of his two corruption trials. While he was on trial for his very life, he took time out of his day to greet just about everyone in the courthouse. He even spent time talking to my mom, who like so many others thinks he’s a really nice man who got a really bad break.
“He didn’t do anything any other politician hasn’t done,” said Blago fan Kay Osborn.
I have run into Osborn every time I’ve come to a Blago event, and there she was with her “Free Blago” sign Wednesday. She will tell you that anyone would expect something in return for a U.S. Senate seat. Blago was just a little more specific about how he characterized this expectation.
It is, after all, Chicago. When people ask me why I am also so suspicious of just about anyone in a position of power, I say it’s because I grew up in Chicago.
It turns out, Blago’s home is just a few blocks away from what used to be my grandmother’s house. This is the neighborhood where my father grew up. And now Blago is something of a neighbor with me, having moved to the Federal Correctional Institution Englewood in suburban Denver.
Colorado is just as excited about having him as Illinois. The same buzzing helicopters and media throngs were there to greet him when he arrived at the Denver International Airport on Thursday. They followed as his car stopped at a hamburger joint on his way to the pokey.
Someone at the restaurant reportedly recognized him from the television show “The Apprentice.”
“Donald Trump fired me, but that’s nothing compared to what I’m facing today,” Blago reportedly replied.
This kind of talk may not have played so well with the judge, but it is what makes Blago so likable among the people. In the history of white-collar crimes, no one has done reality TV shows while out on bail.
My mom has suggested that if Patti Blagojevich moves to the Mile High City to be closer to her husband, that my wife and I show her around. You know, meet her at the neighborhood Starbucks, introduce her daughters to our son, and make her feel right at home.
“He’s going to get out,” my mother said. “He’s not going to be in jail for 14 years. Not for that.”
Indeed, murders often get less time. But I tell my mom not to be so sure. So far, the only thing Blago has beat is the shutter speed on my camera.