Sunday, March 9, 2008

David Wilhelm, Teflon man

Like a hit-and-run driver who helped cause a massive pile up on the freeway, David Wilhelm has left a mess behind in Illinois and the state and national media won't ask him about it.

Wilhelm is doing interviews these days in Ohio as a supporter of Barack Obama, that guy who is lecturing us on cleaning up government. It would be a perfect time for journalists to ask David about a giant Illinois scandal he was part of, but that hasn't happened yet.

Wilhelm was Rod Blagojevich's campaign chairman in 2002. He also headed Blagojevich's transition team as he took office in 2003 after defeating former Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan. The Tony Rezko trial that is taking place in downtown Chicago is about the massive corruption related to the Blagojevich fundraising operation in 2003 and 2004.

We have already learned from prosecution witness Kelly Glynn, the Blagojevich finance chairman who no longer lists the title on her resume, that Rezko was one of the campaign's top fundraisers. At the head of that campaign was Wilhelm. It is quite apparent from a reading of federal documents relating to Blagojevich corruption that the campaign fund will someday be indicted, as well as the governor. It's just a matter of time.

Wilhelm, after he finished his transition duties, proceeded to cash in on his Blagojevich connections in a big way, snagging contracts and pension deals from two of the state pension agencies at issue in the Rezko prosecution. His Teachers Retirement System contract was the subject of a federal subpoena. There were other stories about cronyism connecting Wilhelm and Blagojevich.

The smoke was trailing Wilhelm as he left town in 2005. It appeared a sudden departure and there was widespread speculation among the insiders in Springfield that it was related to the widening federal investigation, a notion that Wilhelm denied.

Wilhelm was at the vortex of the most intense fundraising operation in Illinois history. That operation formed the crux of what looks like the largest corruption scandal ever here. Yet smiling, amiable Mr. Wilhelm rarely if ever gets a question from our national and state press corps about any of this. A friend told me recently that Wilhelm has a person assigned to keep his name out of the Illinois corruption scandal. If that is true, the person is earning his money because Wilhelm's role should certainly be part of the discussion.

I met Wilhelm during that 2002 campaign and he indeed is friendly and courteous. But he deserves to be asked if he has ever been questioned by the feds in Operation Board Games and whether he feels even an ounce of contrition for bringing Illinois the most dysfunctional and corrupt governor in the country and collecting some of the corruption booty on his way out of here.

Here is what Wilhelm was feeding us in 2002.

"Rod realizes that he is being elected as a reformer. People in this state are fed up with corruption and broken promises. The Blagojevich administration will be one of honesty," he said.

At the very least, will a reporter ask him about that?

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