Elizabeth Brackett | Women & Children First | Literary Events | Chicago Reader

Elizabeth Brackett Free Recommended Critics' Picks

When: Fri., July 10, 7:30 p.m. 2009

Everyone already knows the astounding, outrageous climax of Rod Blagojevich's political career: he's arrested by the feds after being caught on tape talking about selling the Senate seat just vacated by Barack Obama. As he put it in his own immortally recorded words: "I've got this thing and it's fucking golden, and, uh, uh, I'm just not giving it up for fuckin' nothing." So in her breezy new book about Blago, Pay to Play: How Rod Blagojevich Turned Political Corruption Into a National Sideshow (Ivan R. Dee), Elizabeth Brackett sets out to tell us how exactly he got there, becoming the fourth Illinois governor in 35 years to be hauled before a federal judge, and the first to make his court appearance in a jogging suit. Brackett, a correspondent for The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer and a news host for Chicago Tonight, has covered politics for years, and she excels at explaining how the deal-making, mud-slinging game is played here. She also establishes the context for Blago's story by introducing inimitable characters like brilliant (but ultimately imprisoned) northwest-side congressman and ward boss Dan Rostenkowski, "cigar-chomping" (and ultimately imprisoned) Republican governor George Ryan, and scheming (and ultimately imprisoned) immigrant businessman Tony Rezko. Most fascinating, though, are the details about Blago himself, who in addition to idolizing Elvis and Richard Nixon, and carrying a hairbrush everywhere showed little interest in the details of governing, obsessed about raising money for a presidential bid, turned over state boards and pension systems to fund-raisers, quoted Kipling and Tennyson when accused of wrongdoing, and went for one of his long runs at the hour he was being impeached. Even political junkies familiar with this territory will have a hard time putting Pay to Play down--trust me. In fact, the only major problem with it is that it often moves too fast. Pushed by her publisher, Brackett knocked the book out in a matter of weeks, and in places it relies on summarizing instead of storytelling. It also just stops instead of reaching an end, but then Blago's story isn't finished yet. We've still got a federal trial to look forward to, and something tells me that whatever happens in court we’ll hear from our former governor again--be it on his own talk show, a national book tour, or a late-night infomercial for a line of hair products. —Mick Dumke