CHICAGO — U.S. Attorney Peter Fitzgerald seemed perfectly suited for his job: Relentless in going after corruption and seemingly oblivious to the politics of the public figures, government officials and business leaders his office prosecuted and sent to prison.
On Thursday, the man who held the job of U.S. attorney of the Northern District of Illinois longer than anyone else is scheduled to talk about his decision to leave at the end of June. In a written statement Wednesday, Fitzgerald only said that he would take the summer off before considering other job possibilities.
But after a high-profile career that spanned nearly a quarter century and included prosecuting terrorists, mobsters, corrupt governors and a presidential aide, Fitzgerald will have no shortage of options.
Anton Valukas, who held the same job in the 1980s and now is the chairman of the Chicago law firm Jenner & Block, said the nation's largest law firms likely will try to recruit Fitzgerald, but he wouldn't be surprised if Fitzgerald is considered for a high political post, such as FBI director or U.S. attorney general.
Former Illinois Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, who recruited Patrick Fitzgerald to take the Chicago job in 2001, said Fitzgerald may want to spend some time in the private sector, either at a law firm or as general counsel for a Fortune 500 company. Fitzgerald and the former senator are not related.
"He's done an incredible job and ... most of us in this profession think the world's wide open for him," said Valukas, who recently completed his examination of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy.
Fitzgerald has said in the past that he has no interest in political office, but never has ruled out anything else, including the FBI job — for which he has been a rumored contender for years.
Now, he'll address his reasons and perhaps his plans in the same spot where in 2008 he announced the arrest of Rod Blagojevich and famously said the former governor's actions would make "Lincoln roll over in his grave."
He'll almost certainly be asked to reflect on what has by any measure been a remarkable tenure that included successful prosecutions of Blagojevich, ex-Gov. George Ryan, media mogul Conrad Black, Chicago aldermen, powerful city officials and others.
And the speculation over his possible replacement is likely to begin in earnest.
Valukas said he would be surprised if Democrats attempt to permanently replace Fitzgerald before the November presidential election and said an interim U.S. attorney likely will be named instead, "and then a serious search," can begin.
Former federal prosecutor Phil Turner, who worked in the northern Illinois office before Fitzgerald's tenure began, said Obama and other Democrats also might want to name a replacement beforehand — perhaps a woman.
But whoever it is should "understand the nature of the power" of the office and "approach the job with humility," said Turner, who has criticized Fitzgerald for his comments about Blagojevich immediately after the arrest. The top prosecutor "has the potential to do lot of good but left uncontrolled can destroy and harm a lot of people," Turner said, because the job comes with "incredible, unbridled power."
Joel Levin, who worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago under Fitzgerald from 2001 to 2008, said there are a "number of experienced" people in Chicago, but he hopes the next top prosecutor is someone like Fitzgerald who had "hands-on experience in the trenches.
"He is able to give meaningful input behind scenes but is first to give credit" to others, Levin said. "I think he (also) earned the respect of a lot of people (because) he has been apolitical in his prosecutions ... He's just a guy who does the right thing. He is a person of incredible integrity."