Cable television introduced us to "The Real Housewives of Orange County" -- an estrogen-infused reality show featuring a coven of conniving and ambitious women living pampered lives in Southern California. Blago-gate has brought us something even juicier: The Real Housewives of Crook County, Illinois. The public may be wearying of indicted Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the Chicago boys' club, but the conniving and ambitious women behind the scenes of the corruption scandal are a must-see political drama all their own.
Mrs. Blago, the former Patti Mell, won the hearts of old-school thugs everywhere with her f-word-filled rants captured on FBI wiretaps, some of which were colorfully detailed in the criminal complaint against her hubby last week. It's old news to folks in Chicago, but the woman who masquerades as a sweet gubernatorial spouse dedicated to children's advocacy is a cutthroat wheeler-dealer in heels who schemed with the gov to fire pesky editorial writers and get herself placed on paid corporate boards in exchange for naming the president-elect's pick to the Senate. First Lady by day, Dragon Lady by night.
Potty-mouthed Patti is the daughter of famed Democratic Chicago Alderman Richard Mell. Hardball ward politics runs in her blood. "Pay to play" is the family way. As a high-powered realtor, the Chicago Tribune reported, Mrs. B. raked in more than $700,000 in commissions on business deals after Hot Rod began raising money in 2000 for his first gubernatorial campaign. The feds have been investigating for years.
Close political observers are waiting for the other shoe to drop on Mrs. B. -- or be used as leverage to force her hubby, to whom she has been fiercely loyal (to the point of alienating Daddy), to 'fess up.
Corrupto-convict and Barack Obama fundraiser Tony Rezko was one of Mrs. B.'s biggest clients of the last decade. Behind him stood his housewife-in-hot-water, Rita, who whiled away some of her time as a patronage appointee to an obscure Cook County government board before getting entangled in the land swap couples' deal between her husband and the Obamas -- the one the president-elect called "boneheaded." On Tuesday, Rezko's sentencing was postponed, suggesting he'll be singing even more to the feds.
Michelle Obama was apparently friendly with the sordid sorority, according to Chicago Magazine. Writer James Merriner reported on a fashion show/political back-scratching gala chaired by Mrs. Rezko and co-chaired by Mrs. Blago two days before the November 2006 elections:
"Michelle Obama, wife of the Democratic U.S. senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama, was a special guest that day (even though the news had just broken about Rezko's participation in a funky real-estate transaction involving the Obamas' Hyde Park home). The fashion show attracted little if any media coverage, which may have been exactly as its organizers and sponsors had hoped. Just three weeks earlier, Tony Rezko had been indicted on charges of extorting kickbacks from businesses seeking contracts from the Blagojevich administration."
Then there's Anita Mahajan, wife of Chicago Mutual Bank owner Amrish Mahajan. Hubby is the Obama supporter and Blago fundraiser who handled that boneheaded Obama land deal and loaned cash to Rezko. Mrs. Mahajan hired Mrs. Blago to sell properties for her. In 2007, Mrs. Mahajan was indicted on fraud charges related to a contract from the state Department of Children and Family Services -- awarded to her by the Blagojevich administration. Prosecutors say she bilked taxpayers out of $2.1 million. For the children, of course.
Democratic women have long played the feminist card in arguing that their chromosomes make them cleaner candidates. The real housewives of Crook County definitively disprove the theory.
Behind every crooked Chicago pol, there's an even sharper-clawed wife. It's in their political DNA. Don't let the lipstick and perfume bleeping fool you.