A sad day in Illinois
SouthtownStar editorial May 23, 2012 7:28PM
Updated: July 3, 2012 9:03AM
For Illinois’ political class, Wednesday was Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day and the Fourth of July all rolled into one. What a cause for celebration — U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is resigning!
For the rest of us, not a good day. We who pay an untold corruption tax (on top of all the tangible taxes and fees) from our state’s tradition of political sleaze have benefited from Fitzgerald’s aggressive prosecutions during his 10 1/2 years in the powerful post. Maybe much more than we know.
While no one person or office can eradicate political corruption, especially in a state such as Illinois, we wonder how many illegal schemes were not pursued out of fear that Fitzgerald and his staff might learn of them. We bet it was plenty.
Fitzgerald, 51, who will leave office June 30, arguably is the best federal prosecutor to have served the 18 counties that make up the Northern District of Illinois. He and his staff’s list of major cases is lengthy — highlighted by the convictions of former governors Rod Blagojevich and George Ryan; William Cellini, a major political power broker long thought to be untouchable; former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge and many other corrupt cops; and numerous organized crime figures, including a landmark case that convicted several top mobsters and solved 18 mob executions.
Fitzgerald was appointed in 2001 by U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (no relation), a maverick who resisted great pressure that he not do so. Patrick Fitzgerald had a stellar reputation as an assistant U.S. attorney in New York City for handling terrorism cases, including the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Illinois’ political bosses wanted no part of him, correctly foreseeing what it could mean for their freewheeling schemes against the public interest.
Fitzgerald’s replacement will be chosen, as protocol dictates, by the senior U.S. senator, Dick Durbin — a loyal Democrat in a Democrat-controlled state who’s sure to make a safe pick.
For the political chiefs, their decade-long nightmare is over. Ours may just be starting.