Are Blagojevich and Jesse Jackson Jr.'s Money Dealings with Chicago's Indian Community Tied to the Corruption Charges?
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Ed. Note: This article offers fascinating background to Chicago politics and the particulars of Gov. Blagojevich's case, offering some possible clues on the connections between Jesse Jackson Jr., Blagojevich, and the money Blagojevich talked about receiving in exchange for the appointment for Obama's vacant Senate seat.
In 2007, the Illinois government renamed a major freeway that links the wealthy suburbs of northern Chicago the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway. This roadway runs though the heart of northern Chicago’s urban sprawl, the expanse of concrete and glass that makes up corporate headquarters (Motorola and United Airlines) and mega-shopping centres (the Woodfield Mall and the Huntley Prime Outlets). Jane Addams, a famous social reformer, would probably not have taken kindly to her name being tied to these churches of American capitalism. The town of Schaumburg sits in the middle of this “Golden Corridor”, and in the middle of this town is the India House Restaurant.
On October 31, a Konkani businessman, Raghuveer Nayak, booked India House for a private party. He hosted luminaries of Chicago’s business community, people such as pharmacy owners Harish and Renuka Bhatt, hotelier Satish “Sonny” Gabhawala, and prominent political leaders of the Indian-American community, such as Babu Patel and Iftekhar Shareef (both past presidents of the Federation of Indian Associations). Nayak, also a former head of the Federation of Indian Associations, owns a group of surgical centres. A highly regarded Democratic Party fund-raiser, Nayak is also a friend of another person who attended the lunch, Rajinder Bedi, an aide to Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (the Governor calls Bedi “My Sikh Warrior”). In addition, among the few who are not Indian American, the party included Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.’s brother Jonathan. Governor Blagojevich made a brief appearance.
People who attended the party made it clear, anonymously, that Nayak brought them together to put his friend Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.’s name up for the Senate. It had become clear that Senator Barack Obama would win the presidential contest to be held the next week, and these deep pockets realised that his elevation would open the Senate seat. The Governor of Illinois would have the right to fill the seat until the next election cycle. Nayak, Bedi, Bhatt and others wanted to put in a good word for their friend, Congressman Jackson. Gabhawala told Chicago Tribune that he saw Bedi and Nayak try to convince Babu Patel, a Blagojevich fund-raiser, to use his influence and money on Jackson’s behalf.
In a country whose highest court decided that political donations are a form of free speech, it is to be expected that you cannot put in a word for someone without opening your wallet. According to a federal indictment and to reliable sources at the meeting, the fund-raisers promised to raise over a million dollars towards Blagojevich, who would then nominate Jackson to fill Obama’s Senate seat. Later that day, a federal government wiretap caught the Governor saying, “We were approached pay-to-play, that, you know, he’d raise me 500 grand. An emissary came. Then the other guy would raise a million, if I made him a Senator.”
On December 4, the Governor met with “Advisor B” (as he is named in the criminal complaint) and told him that “Senate Candidate 5” (Jesse Jackson Jr.) would get “greater consideration” because of a surety that No. 5 would help Blagojevich raise money and that he would give him “some [money] up front, maybe.” Blagojevich wanted something “tangible” now because “some of this stuff’s gotta start happening now… right now… and we gotta see it. You understand?”
Two days later, a month after Obama’s victorious election, the principal fund-raisers from the India House gathering came to a suburban home in Elmhurst, another of the wealthy suburban towns that ring Chicago. Here, according to Chicago Tribune, the Indian-American businessmen discussed raising $1 million to $1.5 million. At the October 31 fund-raiser, Nayak had already made it clear to Bhatt that he could find half a million, but Bhatt and others would have to come up with the other half million. The December 4 meeting apparently made this vision reality.