This has the potential to sound trite and trivial, but the criminal trial of Antoin “Tony” Rezko isn’t Chicago’s “Trial of the Century.” It isn’t the biggest criminal case of this decade.
Heck, it isn’t even the biggest criminal trial to take place in the Second City this week.
REZKO (WHOSE CRIMINAL proceedings appear to be wrapping up this week) will have to take Second Billing to the true Top Trial of Chicago – that of musician R. Kelly.
In the minds of Chicagoans, the Kelly trial will prove to be more interesting than anything that has come up during the Rezko case. Only the most hard-core of conservative Republican partisans in search of facts that can be distorted into political dirt will think Rezko takes precedence.
Actually, even most of those moralists will be more appalled by the Kelly case.
The simple fact is that sex will always top politics – particularly when the political corruption trial is one that involves arcane procedures that many people do not truly comprehend.
WHEN COMBINED WITH the fact that the Rezko case did not produce the political dirt that social conservatives wanted against Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama, the fact becomes that the trial of Rezko amounts to something that “real people” have to be reminded is something they should be concerned about.
The Kelly case involves no such reminders; sex and sleaze will automatically gain the attention of the public – thereby making the criminal courthouse on 26th Street the focal point of the Chicago legal world, shifting away from the Dirksen Building downtown.
Now personally, I could care less about the Kelly case. His music doesn’t interest me much, nor do any tawdry details about his personal life. I have never felt compelled to go searching for “The Video” that shows him committing acts that are illegal only because of the age of the girl.
In the words of a California defense attorney, I guess I am one of the people “living under a rock.” But I can appreciate that simplicity will make the Kelly story an easier sell to the American public.
WHETHER THAT MAKES it an easy conviction for the prosecution remains to be seen.
Kelly’s biggest advantage is that so much time has passed between the time “The Video” was made, the time he was indicted and now, the time when the case actually goes to trial.
The 14-year-old girl in the video is now a 24-year-old who claims she’s not the girl in the video. The visual image that jurors will get to see once they are picked is of a young woman, not a child.
They are going to have to make a lot of assumptions in order to find Kelly guilty. I’m not saying they won’t do that – the kind of people who usually wind up getting picked to juries are the types who are willing to assume that prosecutors do not go after people for no good reason.
BUT THERE’S A lot of room for a crafty defense attorney to create “reasonable doubt” as to the validity of the charges, which basically amount to having sex with an underage girl. The video itself is irrelevant – except that it allows jurors to actually watch the incident.
Their verdict will center on determining whether the act ought to be considered criminal. Public perception will depend on how credible the prosecution’s behavior is, since many of the fans of Kelly’s music are inclined to believe the case is being trumped up against him and his attorneys have gone so far as to say they would like to have some jurors who understand the technical aspects of doctoring videotape footage – to enhance their argument that the video is not truly what it appears to be.
By comparison, the Rezko case is extremely complicated.
Rezko’s attorneys would like us to believe it is just a case of a person who brought together business interests and government officials so they could do what political people often jokingly refer to as “the people’s business.”
REZKO, THEY WOULD have you believe, is little more than a lobbyist.
Of course, it is not that simple. The details are where most people will get that glassy-eyed look on their face, and shift their attention from the Dirksen Building to the Criminal Courts building.
One of the most damning bits of testimony during the Rezko trial involved former Illinois Finance Authority Chairman Ali Ata, who held the position with a salary of over $100,000 per year for just over one year.
Testimony he provided (as part of a plea bargain to get a lesser sentence for his own criminal charges) indicates he got the job after making two $25,000 contributions through Rezko to Blagojevich’s political campaigns.
SUPPOSEDLY, THE DONATIONS were made with the understanding that Ata would get the government job – which would put him in a position to make business contacts and potentially enrich himself further in the future.
Be honest. Reading through that, your mind probably started to doze off until the thought of R. Kelly taking his pants off snapped it back to attention.
What was supposed to be the “sexy” (not literally involving intercourse, but tantalizingly interesting) part of the Rezko case was the involvement of Obama, who knew Rezko, considered him to be something of a friend, and who took a financial loss in cooperating with a real estate transaction that increased the value of the property on which Obama’s home in the Hyde Park neighborhood sits.
There’s no evidence Obama did anything to help Rezko. But Rezko was the type of guy who established his political contacts so he could call in favors – including one or two from Obama at some point in the future.
IT NEVER WENT beyond that. Only the most hard-core social conservative Republican is going to bother dredging up Rezko’s name during a general election campaign against Obama, because his involvement in the trial was so miniscule.
It would take so much time to fully explain why people should care that Obama and Rezko knew each other that a candidate would risk putting the potential voters to sleep. Besides, the Obama critics have the name of Jeremiah Wright to toss around to scare rural America with.
They don’t really need the Rezko name anymore, although I couldn’t help but notice a Gallup Organization poll released Monday that showed Obama’s former pastor had the potential to hurt his campaign to about the same degree that President George W. Bush would have a negative impact on the chances of Republican presidential opponent John McCain.
So on Monday, the day that was the beginning of both jury selection for the Kelly case and closing arguments for Rezko, one might argue that triviality prevailed.
SERIOUS POLITICAL SCIENCE gave way to tawdry sex (with a video). By year’s end, more people will remember the upcoming Kelly case than will remember anything about Tony What’s His Name?
And for those people who are actually involved in the coverage of the trials, there is one significant advantage to shifting the focus from the federal building complex in the South Loop out to 26th and California – lunchtime.
The Criminal Courts building sits in between an Italian district that has some real great old world restaurants and some of the most authentic Mexican food (try Taqueria El Milagro, about one block west of the courthouse) in the city, unlike the Dirksen Building which is surrounded by some of the greasiest (and not in a good way) fast food stands imaginable.
EDITOR’S NOTES: MTV is focusing its attention on Chicago for the Kelly case. Do you (http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1587252/20080509/id_0.jhtml) believe they’d come here for Barack Obama?
For the half-dozen or so people who ever seriously believed that Rod Blagojevich had a chance to become (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/12/us/12illinois.html?hp) president of the United States, that dream has died for good with the Rezko affair.