At eye of the storm, governor of Illinois 'upbeat, positive'
Officials urge actions to have him removed
CHICAGO - With pressure mounting by the hour for him to resign or face impeachment, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was at work yesterday in what an aide described as an attempt to "return to normalcy."
Blagojevich, facing federal charges accusing him of putting President-elect Barack Obama's Senate seat up for sale, did his best to ignore, or appear to ignore, the storm swirling around him.
Obama himself has called on Blagojevich to step down. Lieutenant Governor Patrick Quinn urged lawmakers to quickly begin impeachment proceedings. And the state's attorney general threatened a last-resort option of getting a state high court order declaring Blagojevich unfit to serve.
"Illinois is in crisis," Quinn said at the state Capitol.
Blagojevich, meanwhile, returned for a second day to his Chicago office and was in an "upbeat, positive" mood, said Lucio Guerrero, a spokesman.
"There's a sense of trying to return to normalcy," he said, adding that he doesn't know whether Blagojevich will step down. "That's something that obviously he'll decide on his own."
Allegations that the governor tried to sell or trade Obama's Senate seat form just part of the federal charges that led to his arrest Tuesday. Obama said at a news conference yesterday that neither he nor members of his staff were involved in making a deal with the governor.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan again threatened to go to the state Supreme Court to have Blagojevich declared unfit to hold office if he doesn't resign soon or get impeached.
"Obviously right now in the best of all possible worlds the governor would do what's right for the people of the state of Illinois - he would resign," Madigan, a longtime Blagojevich foe who is considering a run for governor in 2010, said yesterday.
But "at this point he appears to be staying put," Madigan said, adding that she wants a signal from lawmakers about whether they will move quickly on impeachment proceedings.
Legislative leaders planned a special session Monday to strip Blagojevich of his power to pick a new US senator, putting the decision in the hands of Illinois voters instead. Lawmakers also prepared to discuss the possibility of impeachment.
Quinn said the impeachment process should begin when the Legislature convenes and that if that lawmakers don't take action to remove Blagojevich, he would support Madigan petitioning the Supreme Court.
"The Legislature should focus on the source of the problem," Quinn said. "The governor is in office and he needs to be removed from office. . . . I think that is what the people of Illinois want."
A poll taken since Blagojevich's arrest shows 73 percent of those surveyed support impeachment and 70 percent think he should resign. The poll by the Chicago-based Glengariff Group of 600 Illinoisans surveyed Tuesday and Wednesday showed Blagojevich's approval rating at an abysmal 8 percent. The telephone poll's margin of error was plus or minus 4 percent.
Four Illinois House Democrats sent a letter to their colleagues yesterday seeking support for a motion to impeach Blagojevich.
Democratic Representative Jack Franks, one of the governor's fiercest critics, said he hopes Madigan will soon make clear that the House will launch impeachment proceedings unless Blagojevich resigns. "It would be music to the ear of everyone in this state," Franks said.
Franks said he has gotten "a deluge" of calls from lawmakers wanting to be part of any impeachment committee.
Blagojevich's lawyers insist he is innocent and stress that he still has important work to do for the state of Illinois.
The White House yesterday said President Bush finds Blagojevich's alleged behavior "astounding."
It was unclear what incentive the governor has to give up his office. A resignation might make him appear guilty. The office also gives him a certain amount of clout, which can help him raise money for his defense. Senator Christine Radogno, a Republican, said it's possible Blagojevich would use his resignation as a bargaining chip and agree to step down in exchange for leniency.