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John Harris enters spotlights, reluctantly
By Ashok Selvam and Kimberly Pohl | Daily Herald Staff

Gov. Rod Blagojevich, right, and his Chief of Staff John F. Harris during budget talks in 2007 in Springfield. Harris was arrested and charged Tuesday along with the governor.

 

State Journal-Register

John F. Harris

 

State Journal-Register

John F. Harris, right, chief of staff for Gov. Rod Blagojevich, leaves the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago on Tuesday after he was arrested on corruption charges.

 

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

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Published: 12/9/2008 7:08 PM

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John F. Harris, the governor's chief of staff who was charged with corruption along with his boss Tuesday, isn't exactly a household name.

But Harris served in several key roles in Mayor Richard M. Daley's administration in Chicago before joining Gov. Rod Blagojevich's team in 2005 and becoming one of his core aides.

Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald described Harris's role in the alleged corruption as a "nuanced" messenger, the one responsible for communicating the governor's alleged schemes.

It was Harris, 46, who Fitzgerald asserts had several conversations with a Tribune Co. official to pressure the media company to back off of its criticism of the governor if it wanted state financial help in the sale of Wrigley Field.

"The defendant Harris tried to frame the message more subtlety to get the point across to the Tribune that firing the editorial board members would be a good thing in terms of getting financing to allow the (Cubs) sale to go forward," Fitzgerald said.

But back in 2006, as the federal government's probe into Blagojevich's hiring practices heated up, Harris said: "I want to make it clear that this administration will not tolerate any misconduct in the personnel hiring process."

Harris graduated from Loyola University law school in 1987 and, according to the Chicago school's Web site, continues to hold a seat on Loyola's council of regents. Harris served as Chicago police deputy superintendent of administrative services. Later, under Daley, Harris became the first manager of the O'Hare International Airport expansion plan when Daley announced it in 2001, and later became Daley's budget director.

"He did a good job," Daley told reporters Tuesday.

As first deputy commissioner of Chicago's Department of Aviation until 2004, Harris was the city's point man in its effort to expand O'Hare.

Attorney Joe Karaganis fought many battles against Harris and O'Hare expansion as Bensenville's village attorney.

"What struck me about Mr. Harris was his competency and intelligence," said Karaganis.

Tuesday's charges against Harris "seem inconsistent with the man I knew," Karaganis said.

Still, Karaganis asserts Harris made dishonest and inaccurate claims regarding the supposed benefits of O'Hare expansion.

Harris also served in the U.S. Army as a commissioned intelligence officer and judge advocate general from 1984 to 1992.

Who is John F. Harris?

• Title: Chief of staff to Gov. Rod Blagojevich

• Age: 46

• Home: Chicago

• Family: Wife Patricia; three sons

• Education: Graduated from Northwestern University in 1984 and Loyola University law school in 1987.

• Experience: Intelligence officer and judge advocate general in U.S. Army, 1984-1992; administration of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, including stint as budget director and first deputy commissioner of the Department of Aviation, 1996-2005; Blagojevich administration 2005-present.

Sources: AP; Daily Herald archives, interviews