By Patrick O’Brien
As the presidential race remains heated across the country, Tony Rezko’s federal corruption trial still could play a role in determining the Democratic nominee. U.S. Sen. Barack Obama is still trying to distance himself from Rezko. He even returned direct and indirect campaign contributions from or related to the political networker to shed a real or perceived relation.
Rezko is scheduled to go to trial March 3, the day before large primaries in four states, including Texas and Ohio, that should go a long way in determining the presidential nominee.
Former Gov. Jim Edgar says he doesn’t think the Rezko affair will hurt Obama as much as it will plague embattled Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Rezko has been a longtime friend and adviser to Blagojevich.
Edgar says he hasn’t seen anything that he would consider a “smoking gun” between Obama and Rezko, adding Rezko has donated to a lot of politicians. “I took a campaign contribution from Tony Rezko, and I don’t remember him ever asking for anything,” Edgar said Thursday after sitting on a post-election panel sponsored by the Institute of Government and Public Affairs and the Center for State Policy and Leadership in Springfield.
“We all have acquaintances and friends where they’ve done something we wished they didn’t do, but that doesn’t mean we’re in the same boat as them,” Edgar said.
Pundits believe the upcoming primary schedule is much more favorable to Obama than to his opponent, Sen. Hillary Clinton, but as the trial date nears, Obama’s links to Rezko are sure to be scrutinized again by the national press. In addition to being a campaign contributor, Rezko also sold land to Obama adjacent to his Chicago home, a deal Obama later admitted was a mistake. The deal occurred while U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald was investigating Rezko for fraud and extortion.
Democratic Sen. John Sullivan of Rushville, who has worked on Obama’s behalf in Iowa, Minnesota and South Carolina during the primaries, also spoke on the panel and said he didn’t think the Rezko story would mean anything to voters from out of state. Sullivan said the “average person out there” doesn’t know who Rezko is and that media attention to the case has exceeded the public’s interest.
Kent Redfield, director of the Sunshine Project and interim director of the Institute for Legislative Studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield, has another perspective. He says the incident “raises some doubts nationally because they don't have the context.” He adds that Illinois voters are more used to “rough and tumble politics” than voters in other states.