SPRINGFIELD—Gov. Rod Blagojevich invoked Abraham Lincoln's wartime plea of "malice toward none" Wednesday as he opened a new session of the Illinois Senate, which immediately began preparations for an impeachment trial that could remove him from office.
Making his first visit since his Dec. 9 arrest at his Chicago home on federal corruption charges, the Democratic governor found a Statehouse he had traditionally disdained preparing to move beyond his tenure. There was little of the bombast that has dominated since Illinois became a national political spectacle, but the day was full of twisted imagery reflecting a dysfunctional state government.
Earlier in the day, Quinn and other top Illinois officials held a private meeting without the governor, hatching plans to deal with the state's financial crisis in the likelihood of Blagojevich's departure.
"It was an opportunity for us to get together and show that we're unified and we're willing to work with each other," said Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias.
Comptroller Dan Hynes said the group was "reaching out to the [incoming] Obama administration, making sure we have good lines of communication" while Blagojevich remains isolated.
At the inauguration of the new House, Democratic Secretary of State Jesse White received a standing ovation from lawmakers when hailed by Rep. Bill Black (R- Danville) as a "profile in courage." White refused to certify Blagojevich's appointment of Roland Burris to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama because federal agents allege that the governor initially tried to sell it.
The governor, who maintains his innocence, made no reference to the criminal charges or his impeachment. But with little fanfare, he fulfilled his constitutional duty to convene the new Senate that will soon judge him.
From the lectern he offered congratulations to the newly sworn-in senators elected in November—some of whom spoke about the grave task of the impeachment trial ahead. He said he hoped that "we can find our way, as we deal with other issues, to find the truth and sort things out, to put the business of the people first."
"I hope we can find some inspiration in Abraham Lincoln's words, 'With malice toward none and charity for all,' " Blagojevich said, misquoting the nation's 16th president, who said "with charity for all" in his famed second inaugural address.
Blagojevich is restricted in what he can do to sway lawmakers in the impeachment process, but numerous senators said they felt his words alluded to the coming trial.
"I think he gave us that message, meaning not to be biased," said Sen. Lou Viverito (D-Burbank). He added, "To have the governor here was kind of an uneasy feeling because we feel a certain amount of sadness through it as well, even though we know the [impeachment] procedure has to be done."
Shortly after Blagojevich's work in the Senate was finished, House lawmakers revoted their impeachment of the governor, 117-1. The lone negative vote was cast by newly sworn-in state Rep. Deborah Mell, the Chicago Democrat who is Blagojevich's sister-in-law. It was the second vote of her fledgling legislative career after she and other Democrats re-elected Michael Madigan to a new term as House speaker.
The House impeachment vote, following a 114-1 roll call last week, was required because of the seating of a new legislature.
Senators were quickly sworn in for the impeachment trial. Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Fitzgerald was sworn in to preside over the trial. Senators also ordered the chamber's sergeant-at-arms to deliver a summons for Blagojevich to respond to the proceedings.
"An inaugural day is traditionally a day exclusively for celebration," said Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago), who led the impeachment vote in the House. "But the oath we have just taken requires that we immediately take up the issue of the governor's lack of fidelity to this state's constitution and its laws."
The Senate's two newly minted leaders, President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) and Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont), both looked toward Jan. 26, the day the chamber begins Blagojevich's trial in earnest.
Cullerton struck a conciliatory tone as he succeeded retiring Sen. Emil Jones (D-Chicago), Blagojevich's longtime ally through hard-fought legislative battles.
"We will be judged by our ability to address historic, complex and difficult challenges, all in a very short amount of time," he said, adding that he wants to "restore integrity and confidence in our great state."
Radogno, the first woman to become one of the legislature's four top leaders, acknowledged that the Senate was "bracing" for the trial.
"And while there's strong public sentiment to move quickly, we also have a responsibility to complete the process fairly and thoughtfully," she said. "And while it's undeniably exciting to be part of history in the making, it's truly regrettable that this chapter has to be written."