Illinois needs another U.S. attorney like Patrick Fitzgerald to succeed retiring U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.
Illinois' two U.S. senators — Democrat Dick Durbin and Republican Mark Kirk — announced this week that they will appoint a special six-member committee to help select the next U.S. attorney in Chicago.
Durbin went out of his way to proclaim that "this is going to be done in a completely bipartisan manner."
That's fine as far as it goes. Bipartisanship in seeking the successor to outgoing U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is fine. But what matters is not the political pedigree — or even if there is one — of Fitzgerald's successor, but the commitment Fitzgerald's successor has in pursuing government corruption wherever it leads.
The potential problem with the Durbin/Kirk blue ribbon panel is that it will select a candidate with impeccable credentials in the legal, business and political establishment of Cook County and Illinois.
Previous U.S. attorneys with those kinds of impeccable credentials were notably oblivious to the systemic corruption in Cook County and the state of Illinois.
It took Fitzgerald, a career federal prosecutor from New York with absolutely no standing in Chicago, to wage a scorched-earth campaign against government corruption that put dozens of Illinois officials behind bars.
Indeed, it was Fitzgerald's lack of acceptability to the political powers-that-be in Illinois that allowed him the independence to do his job so effectively.
That is not to say that the senators' committee is doomed to select a weak successor to Fitzgerald. But their approach does suggest that this important federal office might well revert to form, pursuing small fry while the big fish run wild.
Former U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, who appointed Patrick Fitzgerald 11 years ago, is fond of telling the story of the political heavyweights who called him to volunteer to serve on his committee to review U.S. attorney applicants. He says they responded angrily when he told them that there wouldn't be a committee, that he alone would make the choice.
Former Sen. Fitzgerald knew what was needed and what he wanted — a corruption buster. He also knew that was the last thing Illinois' political establishment wanted.
What matters in the current search is what Durbin and Kirk want and what they tell their blue-ribbon committee to get. The rest is just window dressing.