If you want to know why Rod Blagojevich is compared to Tony Soprano, just ask Bronwyn Rains, an Illinois psychologist. After her husband's boss, the Illinois House speaker, crossed swords with the governor last year, she was abruptly fired.
Rains kept silent about her dismissal even as the case became a cause celebre around her. Key members of the Democratic governor's own party, as well as journalists and other observers, accused him of carrying out a political hit. Some pointed to what they described as a sustained campaign against family members of Blagojevich's enemies. But only now, with the governor facing federal charges for auctioning the president elect's senate seat, has Rains agreed to go on the record about what he did to her.
"I took the high road with what's happened to me, as well as a lot of people have ... But now, I say to hell with it. I don't mind telling my story now, because he deserves everything he gets."
"I took the high road with what's happened to me, as well as a lot of people have," she told the Daily Beast. "But now, I say to hell with it. I don't mind telling my story now, because he deserves everything he gets."
Other state employees fired under questionable circumstances included Randy Barnette, the uncle of Democratic Rep. John D'Amico, who was said to be kicked off the Illinois Community College Board at the request of the governor's office. They also included siblings of three other state representatives who were removed or demoted by Blagojevich administration. Notable among them was the brother of Rep. Gary Hannig, who helped spearhead the legislature's opposition to Blagojevich's budget.
But when Rains was terminated in October of last year, legislators denounced it as a new low for the governor.
"This type of political vendetta has no place down here," Rep. John Fritchey, a Democrat, said at the time. "These types of activities are best suited for the school yard, not the Statehouse."
The Governor's office did not respond to a request for comment.
Rains is married to Timothy Mapes, Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan’s chief of staff. A feud between Madigan and Blagojevich broke out into open warfare last year after Madigan -- backed overwhelmingly by the state legislature and the people of Illinois -- refused to fund the governor's multibillion dollar health care plan.
Over the course of the budget battle, considered the most acrimonious in recent memory, Blagojevich nearly came to blows with Sen. Mike Jacobs after threatening to ruin his career. The governor also sued Madigan and vindictively cut funding for the Illinois Arts Council headed by Madigan's wife.
There was growing concern that Blagojevich was targeting family members of his political enemies, but Rains never thought herself in danger. The Department of Human Services had contracted her to evaluate the psychologically disabled for 24 years, since before she married her husband. She had never had a complaint about her work. And, she thought, even if her exemplary record would not spare her, she hoped to escape the firing squad because she didn't share her husband's last name.
"I would be OK, because I'd never used my married name, I just used my maiden name, and very few people would know that," she explained.
But the Blagojevich administration apparently got wind of her position anyway. When she went to work one morning in October 2007, she was unceremoniously fired, without warning, by a man she had never met. Her supervisor had not been informed, Rains says.
"I just went, what?" she recalled. "He came in, mumbled his name, and said at the end of this month your contract is going to be terminated ... I don't even think I said anything because I was so stunned by the whole two seconds of events."
Rains didn't suspect a political motive until she called her husband, who immediately drew a connection to the other firings. He was shocked, Rains says. Even after facing the governor in one of the state's bitterest budget battles, "he didn't think ever in his wildest dreams that [Blagojevich] could stoop that low."
Blagojevich's spokesman defended the move at the time as "an action that the agency determined was appropriate," saying the governor's office was not involved in the decision. It was noted that Rains hadn't completed her doctorate, which put her at odds with federal requirements for such a position. But Rains's qualifications had never posed an issue before, and the firing was widely seen in the state capital of Springfield as a simple act of retribution.
"Once you start firing people's spouses, you've declared nuclear war," a leading Chicago Democratic operative declared. "And once you've gone nuclear, you can't get rid of the fallout."
For Rains, who describes herself as "so apolitical it isn't even funny," the most bewildering part of the ordeal was that the governor thought he could benefit from targeting her.
Blagojevich "just went in and said, ‘Let me influence these people. Let me take their jobs, and maybe the legislators will play the way I want to play,’" she says. "He obviously doesn't know my husband very well."
Rains and her husband agreed to avoid inflaming the situation by joining the ranks of legislators who loudly accused Blagojevich of trying to strongarm the Speaker. Such a move could only hurt her husband's career, Rains says, and she herself didn't want to "sink to that level and dignify what he did with a response."
She managed to land on her feet, winning a job working with troubled adolescents in Springfield. From her viewpoint as a psychologist, she says, Blagojevich is about as narcissistic as they come. Rains wasn't a casualty of his war; she was a bug under his shoe.
"I'm sure he slept well that night," she said of the day she was fired. "What sort of pathology is that, that someone thinks they have that much power? ... I deal with some pretty hardcore kids, and God, Rod completely is so much more impaired than these kids. And you would think teenage kids would take the cake."
Steve Brown, a spokesman for Speaker Madigan, says Rains's case foreshadowed the scandal that brought Illinois to its knees this week and has kept the rest of America entranced ever since.
"For all those here today who were stunned and shocked and everything else, it was pretty clearly on our landscape for a number of years," Brown says. "Welcome to our world."
Before joining the Daily Beast, Ross Goldberg worked as a staff reporter on the New York Sun's city desk, where he covered courts as well as general assignments. In college, he served as managing editor of the Yale Daily News.