The [Friday] Papers
"William Cellini has spent four decades as Illinois' ultimate insider, cozying up to Republicans and Democrats alike as he wielded power and influence while trying to stay out of the spotlight," the Tribune reports.
"But the spotlight found Cellini on Thursday when a federal grand jury indicted the millionaire Springfield businessman and pulled him into the center of the ongoing probe of corruption in the administration of Gov. Rod Blagojevich."
Cellini, in fact, is the most classic embodiment of the concept of the Combine - the notion that a group of insiders both Democrat and Republican control the spoils of running state government, regardless of which party is actually, nominally, in power.
"A onetime high school teacher, Cellini latched on to politics early, was elected Springfield's commissioner of streets and public improvements and, by age 35, became transportation czar in Gov. Richard Ogilvie's Cabinet. After officially leaving state government, he became an influential fundraiser and powerful lobbyist who headed up the Illinois Asphalt Pavement Association," the Tribune notes.
"His power grew even more during Gov. James Thompson's 14-year reign when he won state contracts, landed a riverboat casino license in Alton and put together a sweetheart hotel deal that turned into a lemon for taxpayers.
"Under Gov. Jim Edgar, Cellini's sister, Janis, served as patronage chief, a coveted position overseeing personnel issues in a sprawling government that runs on friends and political favors.
"When George Ryan became governor, Cellini kept a grip on state government through longtime loyalists he spent years placing in sensitive positions."
When the Democrats finally took the governorship, it didn't matter, as we now see.
"When we're in, we're in," he once said, as recalled by the Sun-Times today. "And when you're in, we're in. We're always in."
And who is "we'?
"His business partners are equally powerful men, including Victor Cacciatore, president of Lakeside Bank; Earl Deutsch, a longtime Democratic attorney who, with Cellini, created Commonwealth Realty Advisors, which invests about $1 billion in state pension funds; Michael Marchese, president of Harlem Irving Companies, and Richard Stein, senior managing director of Mesirow Financial's real estate division."
And that gang has close ties to Michael Madigan, Ed Burke, and, of course, Richard M. Daley.
"Cellini has used the longtime House speaker's law firm, Madigan & Getzendanner, to handle real estate tax work for his apartment projects in the Chicago area," the Sun-Times reported in 1996.
"[Burke's] law firm gets real estate tax work from another Cellini business, Commonwealth Realty Advisers, which advises the state teachers pension fund . . . Burke also bought 5,000 shares in Cellini's riverboat company, Argosy Gaming, when it went public in 1993.
"Burke shares office space with the law firm of Earl Deutsch, another Democrat and Cellini's partner in Commonwealth. While Cellini was raising money for Republican Gov. Edgar's re-election in 1994, Deutsch was one of the major donors for Roland Burris, a Democrat who lost his primary bid for the governor's seat."
It gets better.
"Cellini is also a close friend and business associate of Victor Cacciatore's. Cacciatore is a Chicago lawyer and entrepreneur, whose Elgin Sweeping Services Inc. got its first state contract when Cellini headed the Illinois Transportation Department.
"Cacciatore donated heavily to Burris in 1994 and also has made real estate investments with once-powerful Democrats such as former Chicago parks boss Edward Kelly and former Ald. Edward Vrdolyak as well as Republican Gayle Franzen, now DuPage County Board president.
"Cellini, Cacciatore and Franzen have invested in land together."
"Cellini is also a partner in several Chicago area deals with developer Michael Marchese, a close friend of Mayor Daley's."
Cellini is everything Tony Rezko was (successfully) trying to be.
"Cellini has always been the guy behind the guy," John Kass writes today.
"The suits making speeches on TV aren't real politics. They're just the suits making speeches. It is the men on the inside who matter, flying below the radar to swoop down to the public trough and feed without much notice."
"And three weeks ago," the Tribune notes, "Blagojevich announced that Cellini's wife, Julie, chairwoman of the state's Historic Preservation Agency, would receive the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial edition of The Order of Lincoln, the state's highest honor."
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Posted on October 31, 2008
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