The Crusader Newspaper Group

Who’s the Black guy with Blagojevich?

First “Black” Illinois governor free from prison after sentence commuted

Crusader Staff Report

What’s up Rod?

Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich on Tuesday, February 18, came back to Chicago after President Donald Trump commuted his 14-year prison sentence. Blagojevich was back at his Ravenswood home the next day where he was swarmed with television journalists during a press conference.

While the spotlight was on Blagojevich, the television cameras also captured another figure who for the past two days had been seen in newscasts with the governor.

He’s a brother. His name is Ziff Sistrunk, a colorful figure who over the years has been photographed with prominent and local celebrities throughout the city. One of his biggest, longtime fans is said to be Blagojevich.

Some call him genuine, others think he’s crazy and loves attention.

Sistrunk was there late Tuesday night at Blagojevich’s home to welcome him back after a long flight from Denver. The former governor had served eight years in a Denver prison after he was impeached and convicted of trying to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat.

Sistrunk, 63, was the one responsible for hanging the sign “Thank You Mr. President” on the front steps of Blagojevich’s home. Prior to Blagojevich’s press conference, Sistrunk was the only figure on the porch of the former governor’s Ravenswood home, wearing a puffy winter vest.

A former batboy for the Chicago White Sox, Sistrunk seriously considered running for mayor of Chicago, setting up a Facebook page, where well-wishers encouraged him to pursue City Hall. Over the years he has taken pictures with former Chicago Bulls Scottie Pippen.

Many Blacks believe Blagojevich’s 14-year sentence was a harsh punishment that did not fit his crime.

Blagojevich, a Bosnian Serb, has long been viewed as Illinois’ first “Black” governor because of his support for Black issues and close relationship to people of color.

Aged, with snow-white hair, Blagojevich still had the swagger as he reaffirmed his innocence and quoted the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Bible.

At his press conference outside his home, Blagojevich denounced racism and vowed to help push for criminal justice reform.

“It’s been a long, long journey. I’m bruised, I’m battered and I’m bloody,” Blagojevich said, dabbing his chin with a handkerchief. Blagojevich said he cut himself while shaving.

By his side was Sistrunk, who according to the New York Times, wrote often to Blagojevich while he was in jail (Blagojevich didn’t write back). Sistrunk also told the newspaper that he sent Blagojevich money, believing that he had been unfairly convicted. “Everybody ran away from him like he had the plague, but I stuck with him for eight years,” he said. “Now that he’s out, I hope he humbles himself.”

In June 2012, Sistrunk made another sign to support Blagojevich on his last day as a free man.

On his mayoral campaign Facebook page, a Sun Times article describes Sistrunk as “a political gadfly with a flair for showmanship belying his scruffy appearance.”

The article also said he gave Blagojevich a warm sendoff. Sistrunk had promised free food, appearances by elected officials and an Elvis look-a-like for the occasion — all as a warm-up act for the governor’s planned farewell speech.

But nothing ever happened and Sistrunk admitted the elected officials had either ducked him or asked if he was crazy.

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