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In a sequence of events that neatly captures the contradictions of Barack Obama’s rise through Illinois politics, a phone call he made three months ago to urge passage of a state ethics bill indirectly contributed to the downfall of a fellow Democrat he twice supported, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich.
Mr. Obama placed the call to his political mentor, Emil Jones Jr., president of the Illinois Senate. Mr. Jones was a critic of the legislation, which sought to curb the influence of money in politics, as was Mr. Blagojevich, who had vetoed it. But after the call from Mr. Obama, the Senate overrode the veto, prompting the governor to press state contractors for campaign contributions before the law’s restrictions could take effect on Jan. 1, prosecutors say.
Tipped off to Mr. Blagojevich’s efforts, federal agents obtained wiretaps for his phones and eventually overheard what they say was scheming by the governor to profit from his appointment of a successor to the United States Senate seat being vacated by President-elect Obama. One official whose name has long been mentioned in Chicago political circles as a potential successor is Mr. Jones, a machine politician who was viewed as a roadblock to ethics reform but is friendly with Mr. Obama.
Beyond the irony of its outcome, Mr. Obama’s unusual decision to inject himself into a statewide issue during the height of his presidential campaign was a reminder that despite his historic ascendancy to the White House, he has never quite escaped the murky and insular world of Illinois politics. It is a world he has long navigated, to the consternation of his critics, by engaging in a kind of realpolitik, Chicago-style, which allowed him to draw strength from his relationships with important players without becoming compromised by their many weaknesses.
By the time Mr. Obama intervened on the ethics measure, his relationship with Mr. Blagojevich, always defined more by political proximity than by personal chemistry, had cooled as the governor became increasingly engulfed in legal troubles. There is nothing in the criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday to indicate that Mr. Obama knew anything about plans to seek money and favors in exchange for his Senate seat; he has never been implicated in any other “pay to play” cases that have emerged from the long-running investigation of the Blagojevich administration.
CHICAGO — A couple of weeks ago, Barack Obama headed to the Hyde Park Hair Salon for a trim. He greeted the staff and other customers and plopped down in the same chair in front of the same barber who has cut his hair for the last 14 years.
But when he wanted a trim this week, the Secret Service took one look at the shop’s large plate-glass windows and the gawking tourists eager for a glimpse of the president-elect and the plan quickly changed. If Mr. Obama could no longer come to the barber, the barber would come to him and cut his hair at a friend’s apartment.
Life for the newly chosen president and his family has changed forever. Even the constraints and security of the campaign trail do not compare to the bubble that has enveloped him in the 10 days since his election. Renegade, as the Secret Service calls him, now lives within the strict limits that come with the most powerful office on the planet.
“It’s always just the two of them,” said Tony Mantuano, the chef and co-owner of Spiaggia. “Now it’s just the two of them and 30 Secret Service agents.”
He has chosen to spend this interval before his Jan. 20 inauguration at his home in Hyde Park, which has in some ways been transformed into a secure fortress for his protection. After two years of daily speeches and rallies, he has retreated into an almost hermitlike seclusion, largely hidden from public view and spotted only when he drops his two daughters off for school or goes for a workout at the gymnasium in a friend’s apartment building.
“This is a tremendous personal transition, as well, far beyond what anyone could imagine,” said Alexi Giannoulias, the Illinois state treasurer and a close friend. “Little things, like going to the gym, going to the movies, going to dinner with his wife, none of that will ever be the same again. Things that we take for granted.”
Mr. Obama is putting off the change as much as he can by remaining in Chicago during the transition. “I am not going to be spending too much time in Washington over the next several weeks,” he told someone in a telephone conversation overheard by reporters on his chartered plane heading back to Chicago after a White House visit on Monday.