Patrick Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney for northern Illinois, announced his resignation today after more than ten years of service to that state. His tenure was remarkable not only for what he accomplished–his prosecutions put away two governors (Blagojevich and Ryan), uncovered political corruption at all levels of Illinois government, went after organized crime and looked for solutions to Chicago’s growing gang problem–but also for how he got there.
He was an outsider–I know because (full disclosure) my former boss Senator Peter Fitzgerald (R-IL, no relation) recruited him for the job, for reasons besides his excellent qualifications. It was, in fact, precisely because he was from New York–an outsider, that Senator Fitzgerald thought he was the perfect man for the job of cleaning up Illinois insider politics. Senator Peter Fitzgerald, whose seat Barack Obama won after Peter decided not to seek reelection, had attempted the same job:
One night in 2001, a Tribune editorial writer thrust a declarative question at U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill.: “You’d rather get some corruption-busting prosecutors named U.S. attorneys in Illinois than get re-elected to the Senate.” Fitzgerald didn’t wait for “to the Senate” before he barked, “Absolutely!” At his insistence, President George W. Bush nominated three Justice Department prosecutors — and nobody from the many law firms cozy with politicians here — to be U.S. attorneys in Illinois’ three federal districts.
Peter Fitzgerald had recruited Patrick Fitzgerald, a New Yorker and no relation, for the Chicago post. This September, Patrick Fitzgerald marks 10 years of discomfiting the purveyors of public corruption in this state. His prosecutors have convicted two ex-governors, George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich, of felony corruption. He is testament to the need for the U.S. attorney here to be independent of this state’s political class.
The story of how these two Fitzgeralds attempted to clean up Illinois–and together, the two have come the closest to accomplishing that job than any on either side of the aisle–should serve as a reminder to the entrenched political class there. While Indiana and Wisconsin prosper under the bold leadership of some of their courageous politicians, Illinois Republicans leave much to be desired.
Patrick Fitzgerald should be commended by his service to the state; now imagine what could happen if the rest he leaves behind follow his example.