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updated: 5/24/2012 5:07 AM

Ex-Sen. Fitzgerald calls Patrick Fitzgerald a "transformational U.S. attorney"

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  • Former U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald of Inverness meets with the Daily Herald Editorial Board in 2008.

       Former U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald of Inverness meets with the Daily Herald Editorial Board in 2008.
    Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

  • U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk

       U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk
    GEORGE LECLAIRE | Staff Photographer

  • U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin

       U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin
    Jeff Knox | Staff Photographer

 
By Kerry Lester

Hours before announcing he would be stepping down as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, Patrick Fitzgerald placed a call to a McLean, Va., bank.

The purpose was not to check on any accounts. It was a courtesy call to the office of the former Republican U.S. senator from Illinois who fought tooth and nail to have him appointed a decade ago.

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"Pat called me this morning and gave me a heads up," Peter Fitzgerald, formerly of Inverness, said Wednesday, noting, "He didn't have to do that."

Fitzgerald went on to explain that he and the bulldog prosecutor who share the same Irish last name but are not related "haven't talked in all that time."

Still, Patrick Fitzgerald's announcement, after nearly 11 years on the job, "didn't surprise me," Peter Fitzgerald said.

"That's a very intense, high-pressure job. And while he's been in office, he's gotten married, he now has two kids. Life has really changed (for him)."

Patrick Fitzgerald didn't give a reasoning for his decision on the phone, and Peter Fitzgerald said he didn't press.

"He just said, 'It's time.'"

Patrick Fitzgerald, who oversaw the prosecution of former governors George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich, among others, will step down June 30.

In nominating him in 2001, Peter Fitzgerald ignored pressure to appoint a local lawyer.

Perhaps because of that, Peter Fitzgerald describes a "concern at the time (of Fitzgerald's appointment) that expectations were set so high that it would be hard to meet them. But he did a magnificent job. He was a transformational U.S. attorney."

Illinois' two U.S. senators, Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk, will work together to recommend a successor to the president, said Sam Skinner, who served in Patrick Fitzgerald's role in the late 1960s and early 1970s before going on to be U.S. secretary of transportation and chief of staff to former President George H.W. Bush.

Though the two Illinois senators will confer and agree on a candidate, "the nomination will be officially made by the (senator from) the president's party," Skinner, of Winnetka, said.

Kirk and Durbin have reached across the aisle on a number of Illinois issues, including judicial appointments, but partisan politics could play some role in the appointment of a new U.S. attorney.

Durbin, a Democrat from Springfield, is expected to want to move quickly so President Barack Obama can confirm an appointment. Kirk, a Highland Park Republican, might try to take more time in the hopes that a Republican might be elected to the White House in November.

In his first interview with the Daily Herald after his election to the Senate in November 2010, Kirk looked to Fitzgerald as he outlined his future goals over his 6-year term.

"In many ways," Kirk said then, Peter Fitzgerald "helped save this state. Had it not been Fitzgerald, had we had a district attorney (who was) a poodle instead of an attack dog, think of what could have happened to our state. In the next six years, I could well be seeing a replacement. I want to be very much in Peter's mold in finding the most aggressive anti-public corruption attorney."

Neither senator's office has yet to name any prospects.

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