By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
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The impeachment report was just as harsh about the importation program, concluding that Blagojevich and his staff "did not adequately inspect foreign pharmacies, did not ensure that only approved foreign pharmacies were filling the prescriptions, and never tested the drugs for safety." Run by Seth Webb—another former Parks Department friend of Tusk's, whose office was on the other side of Tusk's (opposite Regenstein)—I-Save-RX was launched even after the FDA "warned" state officials that it was "in direct conflict with federal and state law." Despite Bloomberg's press conference endorsement of the program, New York never joined it.
In addition to the illegality of I-Save-RX, a Chicago marketing firm, Jasculca/Terman & Associates, was paid $300,000 by the Canadian company selected by Tusk aides to run the program. Jasculca/Terman, which also had $1.6 million in direct state contracts for other marketing efforts that involved Tusk and Webb, donated more than $103,000 to the Blagojevich campaign, including tens of thousands in promotional services. It also coordinated the second inaugural.
Tusk and Webb were also involved in one other Illinois program that overlapped with the Bloomberg administration: the marketing of the state's name and selling of corporate sponsorships, resulting in a contract with Pepsi similar to the one Bloomberg did with Snapple. The Illinois and NYC marketing programs were announced at the same time—in September 2003. Hired as the director of special projects in Tusk's office, Webb developed and oversaw a corporate sponsorship contract with Team Services, LLC, which was supposed to generate up to $300 million in three years. The Sun-Times reported in 2008 that the firm—which was owned by a Blagojevich donor and former business associate of Blagojevich's chief of staff—actually generated $1.1 million and charged the state $820,000, "netting a paltry $315,000."
Last March, the legislature unanimously asked the Auditor General to probe the Pepsi deal, which was completed after Tusk's departure. Coke claims it wasn't allowed to make its final offer, and Pepsi was an early and large Blagojevich donor. Webb's current bio claims that he "created the beverage vending agreement"—he left as soon as it was done.
The "pivotal moment" in Blagojevich's re-election campaign, according to Regenstein and many observers, was when State Senator James Meeks—whose 22,000-member church and close alliance with Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. make him a force in Illinois politics—announced he would not run as a third-party candidate. The May decision followed extensive discussions involving Meeks, Jackson, Tusk, Regenstein, and Blagojevich himself. Jackson reported in his newsletter that Tusk used him as an intermediary, telling him that Blagojevich would negotiate directly with Meeks so long as tax increases weren't on the table.
The key to the eventual deal would drive Tusk's life in and out of Illinois for the next couple of years: the sale of the state lottery, which financial advisers told Tusk could net the state $10 billion. "Bradley and I were working with Meeks," says Regenstein. "We knew what the stakes were." Republican candidate Topinka called it a "backroom deal" and a "shell game." Since none of it ever materialized, she may well have gotten that right.
Regenstein tries to put some perspective on his and Tusk's efforts: "We knew the governor had flaws. We knew all this was going on, but we had no way of knowing if the accusations were true or not. Brad always said to me, 'How many people did we help?' We were trying to stay focused on policy." Webb was more defiant: "Pay-to-play was not something I was responsible for. Why should we talk about it?" he asked.
Tusk is counting even now on his multitasking competence and apolitical veneer to save him from his Blagojevich baggage. But Regenstein acknowledges that Tusk "did go over to the campaign headquarters" and "was involved in consultations" with campaign press and other staff. Aware, no doubt, that the feds were everywhere, when Tusk got campaign calls on his personal cell phone, says Regenstein, he would leave his office in the government center and "go to common space" in the building so he was not doing campaign work "on government time."
In addition to Tusk, Bloomberg and Blagojevich have shared the same campaign media consultant, Bill Knapp of Squier Knapp Dunn (SKD), in every big race they've ever run, including Bloomberg's current one. SKD also did Joe Lieberman's campaign in 2006, and Lieberman and Blagojevich were the only two Democrats that Bloomberg endorsed that year. Bloomberg even hosted a fundraiser for Lieberman in Chicago. Knapp did not return Voice calls, but SKD may well have been a voice in Bloomberg's ear pushing the Tusk hire.
Bloomberg must believe, like Regenstein, that Tusk was trying to do good even as he captained a ship awash in pirates, none more predatory than his own land-based commander. It was a career deal Tusk made with himself, a rationale he could live with, one more message he was confident he could sell. Now, a city facing its own storm must decide if he is good enough to steer this government's electoral flagship—if we can believe what his campaign tells us about his new candidate—or if he has sacrificed too many pieces of himself to be so central to our lives.