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Blagojevich, Rod R., 1956-



  • Existence: 1956    


Rod Blagojevich was born on December 10, 1956, on the northwest side of Chicago. He is the second son of Milorad (Rade) B. Blagojevich and Mila (Govedarica) Blagojevich. Blagojevich’s father was a soldier in the Yugoslav army during WW II and spent four years in a Nazi prisoner of war camp. Rade was brought to the United States after the war by the Serbian Orthodox Church of Libertyville, Illinois, held a variety of unskilled jobs, and ultimately worked as a laborer for steelmaker A. Finkl and Sons. He married Mila, who worked as a ticket taker for the Chicago Transit Authority, in 1950. Son Rob was born in 1955 and Rod the following year. The family spoke Serbian at home. The boys attended Henry D. Lloyd Elementary School and worked a variety of odd jobs to contribute financially to the family.

Blagojevich attended Lane Technical High School and then transferred to Foreman High School, graduating in 1975. He played basketball in high school, and was an amateur boxer, training under the Chicago Park District’s Jerry Marzillo and Pat LaCassa, from 1974 to 1975. He fought in eight amateur boxing matches, winning seven, including two bouts in the Chicago Golden Gloves amateur tournament.

After high school, Blagojevich attended the University of Tampa, where his older brother, Rob, played baseball. He transferred to Northwestern University after his sophomore year and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Northwestern in 1979. He worked for a year as a Serbo-Croatian interpreter for the Cook County court system to earn money for law school, and then attended Pepperdine Law School, earning his Juris Doctor degree in 1983.

Upon graduating from law school, Blagojevich worked as a law clerk for Chicago Alderman Edward Vrdolyak and later served as a Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney under State’s Attorney Richard M. Daley. In 1990, he married Patricia Mell. They have two daughters.

Blagojevich’s career in politics began in 1992, when he defeated Myron Kulas in the Democratic primary for the 33rd state house district of the Illinois House of Representatives. At that time, the 33rd district included part of Chicago’s North Side. As the prevailing Democratic candidate, he was successful in the general election. He served one term in the Illinois House.

In 1996, Blagojevich was elected to the United States House of Representatives for Illinois’ 5th congressional district. He was re-elected twice, serving three two-year terms in Congress, from 1997 to 2003. During his tenure as a United States Congressman, Blagojevich sponsored bills focused on educational improvements. He also was active in efforts to address gun violence and improve transportation.

In 1999, during the Kosovo Conflict of 1998-1999, Blagojevich was part of a contingent, led by the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, that traveled to Yugoslavia to negotiate for the release of three American soldiers being held prisoner. The soldiers had been captured while participating in a NATO force of proposed peacekeepers for Kosovo. The negotiations with President Slobodan Milosevic were ultimately successful and resulted in the release of the three Americans.

In 2002, Blagojevich began campaigning for the Democratic nomination for the governorship of Illinois. While in recent history a Republican-dominated seat, the tenure of the incumbent governor, George Ryan, had been rocked by scandals, and Ryan was not seeking re-election. Blagojevich narrowly prevailed in the Democratic primary, and defeated the Republican candidate, Jim Ryan, in the general election. He took office in January of 2003 and served two terms as governor of Illinois.

As governor, Blagojevich supported many progressive causes, such as a continued moratorium on the death penalty, a statewide smoking ban and various health care initiatives. He backed a new ethics law establishing an independent inspector general, mandating ethics training for state employees and restricting “revolving door” opportunities (where state employees would accept jobs with companies they had regulated immediately upon leaving state service.) During his tenure, Illinois commenced a state-subsidized health care program for all Illinois children and a “pre-school for all” program. He also implemented several notable transportation initiatives, including highway improvements, open road tolling and free bus rides for senior citizens.

In December of 2008, federal agents arrested Blagojevich at his home on corruption charges filed by the United States Department of Justice. Among the allegations was a “pay to play” scheme whereby Blagojevich allegedly sought personal gain in the exercise of his authority to appoint a successor to the United States Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama following his election as U.S. President. Blagojevich maintained his innocence, and a trial on the charges was scheduled for June 2010.

On January 8, 2009, the Illinois House voted to impeach Blagojevich. On January 29, 2009, he was formally removed from office, and prohibited from holding any future public office in Illinois, by two separate votes of the Illinois Senate. His lieutenant governor, Patrick Quinn, became governor and served out the remainder of Blagojevich’s second term.

A federal grand jury formally indicted Blagojevich on twenty-four counts of alleged corruption, most relating to the Obama senate seat, in April of 2009. His trial commenced in June 2010. After several weeks of trial, on August 17, 2010, he was convicted on just one of the twenty-four counts, that of making a false statement to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The jury deadlocked on the other twenty-three charges.

The federal government then dropped certain charges and Blagojevich was re-tried, beginning in April of 2011, on twenty remaining counts. On June 27, 2011, Blagojevich was convicted on seventeen of the remaining charges. In December of 2011, he was sentenced to fourteen years in prison. He reported to the Federal Correctional Institution in Englewood, Colorado, on March 15, 2012.

Blagojevich filed several appeals while incarcerated, and successfully had five of the counts upon which he had been convicted vacated by the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in July of 2015. However, during a resentencing hearing in 2016 following that appeal, the District Court judge confirmed the original fourteen-year sentence. Blagojevich served almost eight full years of the fourteen-year sentence when his sentence was commuted by President Donald Trump. He was released from prison on February 18, 2020.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Rod Blagojevich (1956- ) Papers

Identifier: 31/6/241

Rod Blagojevich was an attorney, a member of the 33rd district of the Illinois House of Representatives, a member of the United States House of Representatives for Illinois' 5th congressional district, and governor of the state of Illinois until he was arrested on corruption charges. He was released from prison in 2020. This collection consists of papers, photographs, audio, video, and artifactual materials documenting his professional and personal life.

Dates: 1955 - 2021