The Celebrity Apprentice: Rod Blagojevich: “I will be vindicated”
BY FRED TOPEL
Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich has just lost another job, though in much better spirits than the political scandal for which he’s still on trial. Fired from The Celebrity Apprentice, Blagojevich was not able to win the grand prize for his charity, The Children’s Cancer Center in Tampa. He’s sure that he’ll be victorious in his trial for allegedly trying to sell the senate seat vacated by Barack Obama.
Blagojevich is fighting for jurors, and the public, to hear the entirety of taped phone calls regarding the incident. These, he says, will explain what he was really trying to do for the people of his state.
“[I] was working with the president’s top chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to try to put a political deal together to appoint [my] political nemesis’s daughter in exchange for the creation of 500,000 jobs, health care for 300,000 people and protecting tax payers from higher taxes,” Blagojevich said in a conference call with the media. “Someone is not telling the truth. The fact that a governor who was elected by the people was taken out of office based on these false accusations, where is the media to start asking maybe there’s something to what he’s saying? Is it possible that maybe the governor is telling the truth? I think when ultimately 12 people sit in a courtroom and see what the truth is and the outcome comes out and the truth prevails, then I think maybe this case will sort of change what’s happened to the media today.”
Any time Blagojevich gets to talking about his case, he tends to pontificate at length about his innocence, as viewers of The Celebrity Apprentice saw. Beyond proving his own innocence, it is important for Blagojevich to remind the public that he’s supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
“Having to go through something like this, as difficult as it’s been from a personal standpoint, I think there’s a purpose,” he said. “I think God has a purpose for all of us in different ways. I think this is going to serve some sort of a good public purpose too. I think part of it has to do with there are no checks and balances any more, on some of these prosecutors who believe in grandstanding and are determined to go out and try to get somebody. Where is that check and balance? Hopefully my case will be the beginning of trying to set that right.”
He also maintains that the accusation is so outrageous, the press should give him the benefit of the doubt. “The fourth estate is supposed to safeguard our democracy but where have they been in terms of asking questions like: is it really possible that a governor in a state like Illinois would be so ridiculously out to lunch to think about selling the president’s senate seat for money? Is that really possible?”
Both viewers and some of Blagojevich’s own celebrity teammates said he should give it a rest, and perhaps talking about his innocence on a reality show would do more harm than good. “When you haven’t done anything wrong and you’ve been falsely accused as I’ve been, slandered as I was, and you’re an honest person and your integrity means everything to you, it’s about what your kids see, the values your kids are learning and making sure they can be proud of their father and not believe the lies,” Blagojevich said. “It’s about your hard working parents who sacrificed and suffered and they taught you and brought you up in Sunday school with a set of values to be honest and meet your responsibilities. There’s so much at stake here from a personal level, that I can’t help but keep saying to everybody and anybody who might be willing to listen, it simply is not true what they said about me. I want you to know it’s not true and I’ll prove it’s not true.”
The Celebrity Apprentice also revealed Blagojevich’s unfamiliarity with modern technology like text messaging. He has assured potential voters that he’s learned new skills since the show.
“Since that time, my daughter Amy, who’s 13, has been teaching me. Yesterday she sent me 5 texts. I was in New York and L.A. She was giving me updates on the Cubs opener. It went from 8 to 5 they were losing, to 12 to 5 they were losing to 15 to 5. Finally, they lost 16 to 5. She was texting me back and forth all kinds of updates and then I would respond to her. My last message to her was basically ‘You’re the coolest kid I know.’ She responded and said, ‘You’re weird.’”
It may be a while still before you can read Blagojevich’s blog or follow him on Twitter, but he’s getting there. “I think you’ve got to crawl before you can walk. I haven’t gotten to Twitter yet. I’m learning texting. I’m getting pretty good at it. The hardest part of texting right now frankly is being able to read the letters on my blackberry. Other than that, I think I’m actually pretty good at it now. I didn’t know how to do it when I was project manager but I’ve since learned.”
The competition also fueled Blagojevich’s political beliefs. One of the show’s challenges reinvigorated his passion for serving the public. “In that diner episode it reconnected me to some of the jobs I did coming up. It reminded me again how hard that work is and how we take for granted these women and men who wait on our tables and serve us at restaurants and the pressure they’re under to keep everyone happy. The kind of pressure they get when they’re also going to make money on tips and they’ve got customers who are talking to them and they want to be extra nice to the customer because they’d like that tip. Most of the money they make is on their tips, not on their wages.”
Serving the public has grown difficult since Blagojevich’s political scandal. Even to represent a charity on The Celebrity Apprentice, he had to go outside of his home state. “Because of the political dynamic in Illinois of me being governor and all that’s happened in the political relationships, a lot of the organizations that I was extremely helpful to when I was governor, because they receive so much state funding, they’re afraid to receive our help because I think they’re afraid of the punitive response they might get from the political colleagues that are currently there. So we had to look outside of Ilinois. Children’s Cancer Center was a perfect fit for me because the best thing I did as governor was to make Illinois the first state in American history to give every child access to affordable comprehensive health care. This was an organization in Tampa, the Children’s Cancer Center, that deals with children who are suffering from pediatric cancer. It was the perfect kind of cause that I had this record of fighting for and want to support.”
The Blagojevich family continues to work in the private sector until he can mount a new campaign. “I have a radio show in Chicago. Patti has now gotten herself another license. She’s a licensed real estate appraiser, licensed real estate broker, she has a series seven license for investments, a series 66. Incidentally, she taught herself these things and got high grades. She’s very smart. She’s now got herself some other insurance licenses so she’s building a business in insurance and investments. She’s just starting out so that’s part of it. There is a documentary that we’re working on. I can say this. In addition to the potential reality show that we talked about, there is a documentary that I’m involved in. That’s another way to earn a living so we’ve got a variety of different things going, and then I wrote my book. There’s some income that comes in from the book.”
Reality TV could provide more opportunities too. However, there are limits to how much exposure Blagojevich will agree to. “We’ve turned down a lot of shows. In the immediate wake of all of this, when our world was kind of fallen in on us and our jobs are taken away from us, we were offered by several production companies the possibility of doing some shows that would be sort of like The Gosselin family and The Kardashians, reality shows about your real life. You’ve been governor, now you’re down and out and how you’re fighting back. They film you every day with your family doing the day to day stuff as you’re trying to dig yourself out of the hole you’ve been put in. It turned out those kind of programs have been kind of lucrative for the Kardashians and for the Gosselins. In spite of the fact that this would’ve been a way to potentially earn a very good living, Patti and I felt it was the wrong thing to do for our kids. It was bad enough the dramatic changes they were being compelled to have to take, our daughters who are now 13 and 7. They were 12 and 6 when all this happened. We just felt this would be an incredible invasion and dramatic change in their lives so we did not do that. We turned those things down but some of these other ones like the ones we’ve done, we’ve done them and we’d like to do them again.”
See how Blagojevich’s Celebrity Apprentice team does without him, Sundays at 9 on NBC