President-elect Barack Obama’s decision to keep a distance from his state’s governor, who was arrested on corruption charges on Tuesday, should enable him to escape becoming tainted by the scandal, analysts said.
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich stands accused of trying to sell the president-elect’s vacant U.S. Senate seat for financial and other personal benefits for himself and his wife, among other charges.
“Obama is not related to the corruption pattern in Chicago,” said political scientist Dick Simpson of the University of Illinois in Chicago. “He has not been pressing for any person to replace him in his Senate seat.”
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, announcing the charges, also said Obama was in no way implicated.
Obama, who takes office on Jan. 20, left the Senate soon after winning the Nov. 4 presidential election. As governor, Blagojevich, a Democrat, has sole authority to announce a replacement to serve the remaining two years of Obama’s term.
Obama told reporters he was “saddened and sobered.”
“I had no contact with the governor or his office and so I was not aware of what was happening. As I said, it is a sad day for Illinois. Beyond that I don’t think it’s appropriate to comment,” he said.
Relations between the two men had long been tense, with Obama pointedly not including his own governor in campaign events. That should help Obama, analysts said.
“Obama had the good sense to stay far, far away from Blagojevich and all of his people,” said Democratic consultant Dane Strother.
“You never saw Blagojevich in Obama’s camp, you never saw his name during the campaign. Obama’s people were plenty smart enough to stay way away from Blagojevich and all the people around Blagojevich,” he said.
Jay Stewart, director of the Better Government Association, a Chicago watchdog group, agreed: “This is all about Rod, it’s not about the president-elect,” he said.
Still, Republicans tried to make political hay from the scandal. The Republican National Committee issued a statement saying Obama had advised and supported Blagojevich’s 2006 re-election, four years after he became the first Democratic governor of Illinois in nearly 30 years.
“Given the President-elect’s history of supporting and advising Gov. Blagojevich, he has a responsibility to speak out and fully address the issue,” said RNC chairman Mike Duncan.
Another connection is Antoin “Tony” Rezko, a Chicago real estate developer and one-time fund-raiser for both men. Obama severed ties with Rezko, who was found guilty of corruption earlier this year, but their relationship caused him some embarrassment during the presidential election campaign.