The new U.S. prosecutor for northern Illinois said Wednesday that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was wrong to say prosecutors haven't done enough to crack down on guns that contribute to deadly violence in the nation's third largest city.
Zachary Fardon added that he has lost sleep over the murders of so many in Chicago, especially children, and that the issue of urban crime would be among his top priorities.
"I have been laser focused on it since before I got here and ... every day since I got here," said Fardon, who was sworn in Oct. 23.
Fardon spoke to The Associated Press and four other news organizations in his first interview since President Barack Obama named him in May to replace Patrick Fitzgerald as Chicago-based U.S. attorney.
Almost immediately after Obama tagged Fardon to become the top federal lawman for the busy judicial district, politicians lined up in front of cameras to urge him to do more to contain gang- and drug-related violence in Chicago.
Fardon hadn't commented publicly on those calls until Wednesday.
Among the sharpest criticism of the government's efforts to date came from Mayor Emanuel, who told the Chicago Sun-Times' editorial board last month that federal prosecutors' attempts to stem gun crime in Chicago had been "horrible."
Asked about the mayor's remarks on Wednesday, Fardon responded, "I do not think that's fair. I respectfully disagree with the mayor and I told him as much (in a recent meeting.)"
Fardon, 47, left a private Chicago law firm to take up his new post, where he oversees around 300 employees. As an assistant under Fitzgerald, Fardon helped convict former Illinois Gov. George Ryan of corruption in 2006.
Fardon said corruption would remain a high priority.
So would the prosecution of alleged terrorists, he said. Fardon said the reality that "we are still at war" with would-be terrorists was driven home to him when he ran in the Boston Marathon himself in April -- crossing the finish line well before two bombs went off.
"It impacted me (emotionally) profoundly," he said.
But most of the free advice offered to Fardon over recent months has had to do with street-level violence in Chicago.
Last year, the city's murder tally topped 500 in 2012 -- the first time since 2008 it hit that mark. Though the murder rate has declined in 2013, the killing early this year of 15-year-old honor student Hadiya Pendleton a mile from Obama's South Side home put the issue of Chicago violence back in the national headlines.
"I'm like a lot of people in that I lose sleep when people, especially kids, are shot and killed," Fardon said.
Fardon said nearly a third of the roughly 130 criminal prosecutors at the Chicago office are already assigned to its gangs-and-drugs division. But any solutions, he went on, were multifaceted and would include central roles for local and state law enforcement.
"We are a piece of this puzzle, but we are not the full puzzle," he said about the federal role. He added that, "We are not going to arrest our way out of the problem."
Earlier this year Sen. Kirk called on then-U.S. attorney nominee Fardon to use racketeering statutes to jail what he said were up to 18,000 Gangster Disciple street-gang members in the Chicago area, saying it would be "payback" for Hadiya's killing.
Asked about Kirk's comments, Fardon said prosecutors charge suspects when there is evidence and when indictments "make sense."
"Sen. Kirk's a lawyer -- he knows that," Fardon said. "I believe he is very passionate about this issue and I, for one, respect the agitation (and) dialogue about what it is we need to do to succeed in the fight against gang violence."