Former deputy governor trades in politics for a family campaign
Sunday, June 01, 2003
By Brad Spencer
Photo by Josh Hawkins / Chicago Parent
Melanie, Logan, Doug and Carter Scofield relax at home.
Resign from a high-profile political position that pays upward of six figures and people will talk. Resign after only two months on the job claiming "family obligations," and scrutiny will abound. Was it a nervous breakdown that drove out the political operative and policy wonk who helped elect the first Latino from the Midwest to Congress and the first Democratic Illinois governor in 30 years? Or is there scandal involved? Neither, says former deputy governor Doug Scofield, 37. He shocked the media in early March by stepping down from his position as top aid to Gov. Rod Blagojevich. He wants to spend more time with his family, he says. Valuable years were slipping past him--those of his sons Logan, 4, and Carter, 2. Scofield's highly publicized decision--like that of U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.) who says he will not run for a second term because he is missing too many Little League games--has become a trend of sorts in the political arena. Scofield swears his departure from such a top political echelon for family reasons wasn't mere jargon but fact, something that appears quite evident on an early spring morning at his home in Oak Park. Logan and Carter, two vibrant, blond, blue-eyed boys, are pulling on Scofield's arms and jumping up and down, desperate for attention. He settles them at his feet in the living room before sitting down for an interview. Scofield doesn't seem willing to leave their side. In his old job, he saw he was becoming a virtual dad. One night the Scofield boys saw their dad on television and they cried. "It reminded them that Dad wasn't home," says Melanie Scofield, his wife of nine years, whom he met when both were attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. "That night they just wept and it was a sad moment." Scofield also was reduced to seeing his sons on television. If he was going to see the boys play T-ball, enjoy a party or frolic in their Halloween costumes, he had to watch it on video. Melanie, who gave up a lucrative public relations job in Washington, D.C., to be a stay-at-home mom, taped the ball games, parties and holiday events so her husband could feel, at least to some extent, that "he was a part of their lives at that particular time." His conspicuous absence began when Scofield was working as chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) in Washington, D.C., a 10-year stint that led him to head up Blagojevich's run for governor. "Doug was really a workhorse for me," says Gutierrez, now in his fifth term as a congressman. "He literally ran every aspect of the office. The guy was everywhere and did everything. He was always organized and on top of his game. He took his job seriously and the work showed." But the around-the-clock work demands and the weekends away from his family during the governor's race eventually took a toll on Scofield's family. He and Melanie longed for Nov. 7, 2002; after the election things were supposed to quiet down. And then Blagojevich offered what Scofield wistfully refers to as "the opportunity of a lifetime"--a job as the deputy governor. In those two months as deputy governor, Scofield oversaw policy and communication for the governor's office. He was charged with taking Blagojevich's ideas and communicating them to the public. The job and the campaigning that preceded it required that he be in Springfield at the beginning of each week, Chicago at the end of a week, and anywhere from Rock Island to LaSalle-Peru in between. The travel was exhausting for him and it was becoming detrimental, he and Melanie felt, to their two young sons. "The kids not being a part of a regular family life got to be routine," Melanie confesses as Scofield takes a break from the interview to see what Logan and Carter have created from their building blocks. "It was hard on them, hard on Doug and hard on me. He'd call and ask what we had planned for the day and I'd tell him we were headed to the zoo. I could tell that it bothered him not being able to be here with them." Blagojevich remains close friends with the Scofields. The father of two young children, including a newborn daughter, the governor says he can relate to Scofield's dilemma. "I know how hard it is to balance the demands of public service with the demands of a young family," he says. "It was important to Doug to be able to spend more time with his children, and, as his friend, it was important to me to honor that request." Blagojevich adds that although Scofield may not be a permanent member of the administration, he will remain a "key and trusted aide and friend." Doug's voice has a slight quiver when he speaks of missing the early years of his youngest son, Carter. "I missed a great deal of his growth from infancy to a toddler and that hits home when I think about it. My father never missed a Little League game, and I was already missing these special times." While Logan had the fortune of somewhat understanding his father's busy work life--he even tried to persuade his preschool classmates to vote on Election Day, Melanie says--Carter was getting the idea that there was no Dad, just a mysterious man who dropped in from time to time. "It became apparent when Doug resigned and was spending more time at home," she says. "Carter was still going to me for things and kind of ignoring his father." That's all changed now as Carter looks up from his blocks and asks his dad if he can go get his Buzz Lightyear toy. In an hour or so, Doug will drop off Logan at gymnastics. "My being away affected the kids minimally in large part because Melanie is great," says Scofield. "She did a tremendous job, integrating me and my memory, so to speak, into their lives, being for a while, essentially, a single parent." As for the rumors and the speculation regarding his unorthodox decision--Sun-Times gossip columnist Michael Sneed reported "periodic episodes of lightheadedness" led to the decision--Scofield says it doesn't matter; his colleagues know the real reason and that's good enough. "Like when you have to take a test when you want a driver's license, those in jobs that require a ridiculous amount of time away from home should have to take an exam," says Gutierrez, himself the father of two daughters. "It is too easy to lose track of the priority, which is your family. You must be able to maintain an equal balance, and I think Doug thought that now was not the time. The kids were too young." "If the kids were 8 and 6, maybe I'd be thinking differently right now," says Scofield over a cacophony of hoots and hollers. Dad's attention has apparently strayed too long as the boys are back to pulling on his arms. "It's just not a good time for a father to be away from his kids. My absence can have a severe effect on them at these early stages of their lives." While Doug and Melanie work on building up their own public and governmental relations firm, Scofield Communications, currently headquartered just a few feet from the kids in the basement of their house, they're adamant about not getting drawn back into the rat race. "We've been down that road before and we know the consequences," Doug insists. "With this new business, Melanie and I have a chance to spend more time together and still take time when we need to for the kids." There's jubilant chaos ensuing now at the Scofield home. Logan and Carter are beckoning their father's attention with Frisbees and Nerf balls and Scofield is eager to oblige. Perhaps he wants to make up for lost time.Brad Spencer is the father of 6-month-old twin daughters, Sports Editor of the Wednesday Journal and a freelance writer based in Oak Park.