Former Sen. Fitzgerald offers advice for suburban successor Kirk
The last suburban lawmaker elected to the U.S. Senate offered a few bits of advice to Mark Kirk, as the Highland Park Republican prepares to head to the upper chamber in a week's time.
"My advice to Senator Kirk would be first to exercise his power wisely and judiciously," said former Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, who lived in Inverness while in office. "And second, to just do what you think is right for the state of Illinois and the nation. Do not worry about the politics of individual votes."
Fitzgerald said he believes the structure of the Senate, with 100 members as opposed to the House's 438, will allow Kirk to hold true to the moderate stances the congressman became known for while serving the 10th District, including supporting abortion rights, civil unions and stem cell research.
"The House speaker is extremely powerful under the rules," Fitzgerald said. "The Senate has a much stronger tradition of independence, with much more power in the hands of individual senators."
Fitzgerald says he doesn't foresee Kirk and Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin clashing much, either.
"Senator Durbin is a very effective spokesman for the Democratic side of the aisle," Fitzgerald said. "But I didn't have any trouble working for him on a day-to-day basis."
Kirk will likely find himself hosting, with Durbin, a weekly breakfast for constituents every Thursday morning, Fitzgerald said.
"And he'll work with Senator Durbin on a lot of things that are specific to Illinois. Issues regarding military bases, transportation improvements and the like, there really won't be much of a divergence of views between the two."
However, Fitzgerald noted, "there are going to be some overarching things about the side of government where I'm sure Kirk and Durbin will agree to disagree."
With his freshman colleagues, Kirk has an advantage in starting Nov. 29 instead of in January since he'll serve the remainder of the term being filled by departing Roland Burris, Fitzgerald noted.
Along with being able to place key votes on spending and taxes, "there's a lot of incoming freshmen this year. He will be senior to them," Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald, who now lives in Virginia, said he called Kirk to congratulate him shortly after Kirk's victory over Democrat Alexi Giannoulias on Nov. 2.
"He had a terrific victory. Illinois is a tough state for Republicans. He ran a good campaign," Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald would know.
In 1998, he was the first Republican to win a U.S. Senate race in Illinois in 20 years.
Fitzgerald, 50, now runs a bank in McLean, Va.
These days, he's watching his son, Jake, pitch for Oberlin College.
During his six years in office, Fitzgerald established a reputation as a staunch conservative who broke from his party all the same on some issues, such as by supporting campaign finance and opposing oil drilling in protected wildlife areas. Fitzgerald strengthened an iconoclastic legacy by insisting on the appointment of an out-of-state U.S. attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald, to look into corruption in Illinois.
He encouraged Kirk to do the same.