Will we learn corruption's lessons this time?

 
 
Published: 6/6/2008 12:01 AM

It's easy to fall prey to pessimism about the seemingly sorry status of our state government in the wake of the corruption conviction of Antoin "Tony" Rezko.

After all, again, we have an example of a friend and confidante of one of our governors found guilty of 16 counts of mail and wire fraud, and federal prosecutors most surely are looking toward the governor as they continue to probe pay-to-play allegations.

We already have a former governor sitting in federal prison for corruption that was tied to the deaths of several children from one family. When are those in power going to learn?

Operation Safe Road demonstrated in the most traumatic, tangible way that public corruption has human costs. The Rezko trial and verdict shows he and others -- both Democrat and Republican -- didn't learn anything from that.

This time, the victims are those who tried to play by the rules in making a case for a hospital and rank-and-file teachers who believed their retirement money would be handled properly.

But there is much optimism to be found in the lessons from the Rezko verdict as well.

There are heroes who deserve our warm support and thanks. First and foremost among them is Edward Hospital CEO Pamela Davis, a Naperville resident. Davis could have played the game or looked the other way when she believed she was being pressured for a payoff in order to secure the votes from a state panel that would allow her company to build a facility in Plainfield.

Instead, Davis demonstrated the moral righteousness and ethical fortitude Rezko and his cronies lack by alerting federal prosecutors to the suspected corruption. She is an example to us all.

The Rezko jurors followed her lead. After sitting through two months of complicated, mind-numbing testimony, it is evident they took their role in our justice system to heart. As anyone who has served on a jury knows, the pull to return to normalcy is strong, but these jurors took nearly two full weeks to carefully and thoughtfully consider the allegations and evidence. Then many of them just as thoughtfully stuck around yesterday afternoon to share their insights with the public. They are an example to us all.

But the power of politics-as-usual and pessimism permeates. Within minutes of the verdict announcements, political strategists were spinning.

The GOP released an attack video on newly minted Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama underscoring his friendship with Rezko in an "Obama's money man" video. Democratic strategists jumped to his defense by mentioning GOP nominee John McCain's connection to convicted savings and loan figure Charles Keating. Will all this devolve into this election's swiftboating?

It's hard to keep hope alive based on our history. But we'll try. And so we call upon Obama and McCain and their handlers to resist the temptation to get caught in a swirl of smear and to stay focused on our future.

We call upon Blagojevich and the state legislative chiefs to rise above. Follow the leadership of Davis and the jurors. Sign into law the anti- pay-to-play legislation now. Work on even stronger anti-corruption proposals. Come together and get to work on cutting a bloated budget and finding the funds needed for only the most critical road repairs and construction we need without mortgaging our future.

It would be easy to use the Rezko verdict as an excuse for continued paralysis. Governor and caucus officials, walk the hard path toward what is right and responsible. That would be one small step toward showing us all you've learned from this verdict and the far too many in Illinois that came before it.