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The Problem With Illinois Politics? It’s the Hair (Blagojevich’s, That Is)
WSJ.com November 12, 2009, 3:00 PM ET
The “Blagojevich” bouffant ‘do, in full effect. Getty
Not since the days of Nero has a haircut – the Caesar – been associated with political corruption so much as it is today with "The Blagojevich." In Illinois, impeached governor Rod Blagojevich's faux-bouffant is – rightly or wrongly – virtually analogous with cronyism, fraud and bribery.
In "Hair Today," a short campaign film made on behalf of Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidate Andy McKenna, the connection is made – solidly and unambiguously. In the six-minute spot, Springfield, the state capital, is filled with state legislators, taxi drivers, mothers and babies, even the capital building – all of them topped with Blagojevich's trademark 'do.
The implication? For Illinois politics to move on out from its checkered past, people need to stop letting The Hair rule.
Fred Davis, CEO of Strategic Perception Inc., the ad firm that shot the commercial, came up with the concept by first wondering what the Illinois state capital building would look like with a bouffant. "It couldn't just be Blago's hair on the capital because the problem went much farther," Davis said, referencing the numerous convicted politicians in the state's history.
So indicted Illinois governors of yore are shown with Blagojevich hair in the film. Also: hundreds of extras who descended on the state capital for the day-long shoot. "We shot right in front of the capital for the whole day. Everyone in the scene was wearing a Blago wig and nobody reported it," said Davis.
In the film, amidst the tornado of glossy hair enters Andy McKenna: outsider, honest, distinguished gray short-cropped locks. "Part of breaking with the past is laughing at it," said McKenna, one of seven Republican hopefuls that will compete in this February's primary leading up to a November 2010 election runoff against Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn.
McKenna, described by many as thoughtful businessman (he heads Schwarz Supply Source, a paper and packaging product supplier), knew he had to do something out of character to get attention. He turned to Davis, a veteran of Republican campaigns and the man responsible for the "Obama Celebrity" spot that garnered national attention during the 2008 Presidential campaign.
Not everyone has reacted positively or humorously to the spot. Patrick Campbell Sr., owner and proprietor of Campbell's Hairstyling, a barber shop near the state capital building, cut the hair of Illinois governors Otto Kerner (convicted of bribery) and Dan Walker (convicted of fraud) when they were in office. "I don't think it's about the hair at all," Campbell said. "It's about the will of the people."
The man whose mop-top inspired the film isn't terribly pleased, either. Referring to the hundreds of replicas of his hair were made for this commercial, Glenn Selig, a spokesperson for the former governor said: "Had these replicas been made for a shampoo commercial or for a documentary on how he has helped millions of people in Illinois get healthcare, yes he would've been flattered. Given the context, flattered is not the word that comes to mind."
In defiance of Mckenna's message, Blagojevich isn't visiting a new hair-stylist anytime soon. "He does not plan to change his hairstyle because of this," the representative said. "Of course not!"
Now that he's made his statement, McKenna wants to talk about the issues more than the hair. "The commercial makes a point, which is that we do have a culture of failure in Springfield," he said.
But the hair will still play a role in Illinois politics and the upcoming election. During a speech announcing candidacy, McKenna took a moment to connect his opponent and Blagojevich through their hairstyles: "Pat Quinn said he would be different from Rod Blagojevich when he came into office, but when it comes to taxes and spending, Pat Quinn is Rod Blagojevich with a little bit less hair."