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COLUMN: Landfill connections to Blago?

Driven by complaints from residents, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is working a case against the two construction debris landfills near Sheridan.

I talked to a few of those residents the other day. They believe the owner of the landfill company, Branko Vardijan, got approval to deposit construction waste there years ago because of his connections to then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

They presented no evidence showing Vardijan received special treatment, but they have some basis for their suspicion.

Vardijan's company, Chicago-based Ravenswood Disposal, gave $30,000 to Blagojevich's campaign and another $10,000 to the campaign of Blago's father-in-law, longtime former Chicago Alderman Richard Mell.

A piece in Crain's Chicago Business in 2005 certainly encourages the suspicions of Sheridan residents.

That story stated, "Garbage industry players need to stay on the good side of powerful politicians. The best way to do that is spread some cash around. In the past four years, the boys who picked up, treat and bury your garbage have given well over $1 million to Illinois politicians who determine who can play in the heavily regulated, highly competitive trash business."

The story then pointed out Ravenswood donations. Vardijan said he gave to Blago because ethnic Serbs like him and Blago need to stay together, according to Crain's. He added, "In this business, it's good to have some friends."

Translation: Vardijan knows how to play the political game. It should surprise no one that a business that benefits directly from government largesse showers cash on politicians who can help it. It's considered an investment.

Vardijan had made his name in the landfill business. In 2005 and 2006, "Waste Age" magazine listed him as one of the top 100 "players" in the waste disposal business. At the time, the magazine said Vardijan's companies had 105 employees and a projected 2006 revenue of $10.5 million.

He apparently also gets to know the areas where he does business, sometimes to his detriment.

In November 2006, Conservation Police cited him for hunting violations near one of his Sheridan landfills, including hunting without permission of the landowner. He later pleaded guilty in La Salle County Court to the misdemeanor charges.

Vardijan didn't return my messages for comment.

'It's super rare'

Whatever your opinions of House Speaker Michael Madigan, you must concede that this man wins. There is a political graveyard full of those who thought they could outmaneuver the Chicago Democrat.

Gov. Bruce Rauner planned to steamroll over Madigan during the two-year budget debacle. As the world found out, the governor failed and was left to complaining that Madigan, not he, was in charge of the state.

Despite his power, you don't see Madigan getting in front of cameras often. He keeps a low profile, preferring to operate behind the scenes. That's why it was surprising he agreed to speak to local unions in Ottawa last week.

In an email, I told Springfield political blogger and Times columnist Rich Miller that I believed it was unusual for Madigan to give a speech in public, even in Chicago.

"Yeah, it's super rare," Miller responded.

David Giuliani is a reporter for The Times. His weekly column "As It Is" expands upon regular news coverage by adding his insight and ideas. He can be reached at 815-431-4041 or Follow him on Twitter at @tt_dgiuliani.

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