At a Glance
- Career History: Governor of Illinois (2003 to 2009); Congress (Ill.-5th; 1997 to 2003); Illinois House of Representatives, (1993 to 1997)
- Birthday: Dec. 10, 1956
- Hometown: Chicago, Ill.
- Alma Mater: Northwestern University, Bachelor, 1979; Pepperdine School of Law, J.D., 1983
- Spouse: Patricia Mell Blagojevich
- Web site
Path to Power
Blagojevich's father, Radisa, a former prisoner-of-war, arrived from Serbia in 1945 to work in a Chicago steel mill. His mother, Mila Govedarica, a child of immigrants from Bosnia-Herzegovina, was a ticket-taker for the Chicago Transit Authority. He and his older brother, Rob, grew up in a North Side home immersed in Serbian culture and language.
Blagojevich's competitive - some say combative - nature was evident early on. He once changed high schools to improve his chances of making the basketball team and enjoyed a brief 1-1 career as a Gold Gloves boxer.
In 2007, Blagojevich proposed a $2 billion-a-year universal health insurance program funded by new taxes on business. He didn't win a single vote in the state House. When he tried to expand a federal-state health insurance program for low-income families to include households that earned as much as $83,000 a year, he was blocked by the courts.
Lawmakers argued that Blagojevich's abrasive style and dismissive attitude toward the General Assembly helped doom his proposals.
The state that gave the nation both former President Abraham Lincoln and mafia don Al Capone underscored its social and political duality by elevating Obama and Blagojevich to the national stage in 2008. As contemporary rising political stars, their paths crossed while Obama was a state senator and Blagojevich was governor. Obama advised Blagojevich's first gubernatorial campaign in 2002 and campaigned for him in 2006 even as federal authorities were investigating the governor. They also had mutual associates such as Mike Strautmanis, who is now in Obama's Office of Public Liaison, and Antoin "Tony" Rezko, who was convicted in June 2008 on fraud and bribery charges. Obama's aides say he purposefully distanced himself from Blagojevich. Federal prosecutors said Obama was unaware that Blagojevich was trying to auction off his old Senate seat.
Longtime Chicago alderman Richard Mell did more than anyone to propel his son-in-law's career from the state legislature to Congress to the governor's office. But the two have been estranged since Blagojevich shut down a landfill operated by a Mell family relative in 2004. Mell, who no longer gets to see his two granddaughters, has defended his daughter, Patricia Mell Blagojevich, saying she "had blinders on" when it came to Blagojevich.