Kadner: Recalling the man behind U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald
Phil Kadner email@example.com | (708) 633-6787 May 24, 2012 9:46PM
Updated: July 3, 2012 9:45AM
Patrick Fitzgerald would never have become the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois if it hadn’t been for Peter Fitzgerald.
Peter Fitzgerald was a U.S. senator from Illinois who 11 years ago nominated Patrick Fitzgerald to be the top federal prosecutor in Chicago.
A federal investigation had begun into Gov. George Ryan’s activities as Illinois secretary of state — criminally corrupt actions that would eventually put him behind bars.
Ryan served for years in the Legislature with fellow Republican Dennis Hastert, of Yorkville, who was speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives when the prosecutor’s position became vacant in northern Illinois.
“Ryan pressured Hastert and (Mayor Richard) Daley, who he was very close to, to get someone appointed to that position who wouldn’t pursue the investigation,” Peter Fitzgerald told me during a telephone call Thursday.
The senior U.S. senator whose party controls the White House traditionally nominates someone to a U.S attorney vacancy in his state.
But Hastert and his staff went to President George Bush and said that since Hastert was House speaker, Peter Fitzgerald should not have the nominating power.
“Actually, they went to Karl Rove (Bush’s senior advisor) and asked him to give the nominating power to Hastert,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald said he went to Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who was the Senate minority leader.
“Lott believed in protecting the Senate’s traditions and privileges, and if they took the power to nominate a prosecutor away from me, they could do it to any senator in the future,” Fitzgerald said.
Lott persuaded Hastert to back off. But then Rove called Fitzgerald and told him, “OK, it’s your pick. But you can’t pick anyone outside of Chicago,” Fitzgerald recalled.
“I knew immediately why they were doing that. If I picked someone from Chicago, Ryan and Daley figured they would find a way to get to them,” he said. “They were no longer trying to corrupt the appointment procedure, they were trying to corrupt the appointment (selection) process.”
Fitzgerald suddenly started getting calls from influential lawyers and politicians, offering to help him select a nominating committee. Most U.S. senators, he explained, appoint a nominating committee to screen candidates for U.S. attorney.
“I told them I didn’t need a nominating committee,” Fitzgerald said. “I was the nominating committee. I was elected to do that job by the people of Illinois, and I wasn’t going to delegate it to anyone else.”
Sen. Fitzgerald eventually chose Patrick Fitzgerald, a fearless federal prosecutor who had made a reputation for himself in New York City. He and his staff eventually sent Ryan to prison, as well as former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a bunch of Springfield and Chicago political operatives and some mob bosses.
And while the praise heaped on him is well deserved, every time I’ve heard someone singing the praises of Patrick Fitzgerald in recent days, I found myself thinking of the other Fitzgerald.
Sen. Fitzgerald was a unique character in the annals of Illinois political history.
In 1998, he spent $7 million of his money to defeat Illinois Comptroller Loleta Dedrickson, a Southland resident, in the Republican primary election. At the time, it was the most money anyone had ever spent on a primary race in Illinois.
Considered a far-right conservative, Fitzgerald refused to appear at editorial board interviews. Instead, he carefully crafted his image by buying television commercial time.
He won the primary and went on to defeat U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, a Democrat, in the general election. He spent another $6 million of his money on that campaign.
But once in the Senate, he became an outspoken critic of political corruption in Illinois. He refused to blindly support federal spending on Illinois, saying that the “mere fact that a project is located somewhere in Illinois does not mean it is inherently meritorious and necessarily worthy of support.”
In 2000, he conducted a two-day Senate filibuster, insisting that federal bidding guidelines be applied to the $115 million Abraham Lincoln Library project. He said he feared money for the project would be siphoned off by Ryan and his corrupt cohorts in Springfield.
He opposed billions of dollars in federal spending for O’Hare International Airport expansion, instead championing the cause of a new airport in the south suburbs.
In 2003, Fitzgerald announced that he would not seek re-election. Today, he lives in McLean, Va., where he founded the Chain Bridge Bank.