Fitz named to Ill. ethics commission

Nathalie Tadena

Northwestern’s football coach, Pat Fitzgerald, will serve on a state ethics panel created in the wake of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s impeachment, Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn announced last week.

The 15-member Illinois Reform Commission held its first meeting Thursday in Chicago. Fitzgerald, who was travelling out of town, participated in the meeting over the phone.

“I’m not looking to run for any political office or get involved in politics,” Fitzgerald said. “That was part of the reason I said yes to being a part of the commission. It wasn’t about the politics of today; it was about how we can improve the state of Illinois.”

Quinn created the commission to discuss a variety of laws and government practices that “fall under integrity and ethics,” such as campaign contributions, said Patrick Collins, the commission’s chair.

The committee’s first public meeting comes two weeks after the state House of Representatives impeached Blagojevich for corruption charges. He now faces an impeachment trial in the state Senate.

Blagojevich, Weinberg ’79, was arrested in December on federal charges. Among other things, the criminal complaint accused the governor of attempting to sell President Barack Obama’s Senate seat.

The incident is the latest in Illinois’ growing history of corruption in its state government – three of Illinois’ former governors in the past 36 years have been imprisoned.

“We basically had the perfect storm of developments,” said Collins, the lead prosecutor responsible for sending former Gov. George Ryan to jail for bribery. “We’ve had governors from two different parties come under serious federal investigation. It’s an issue of the culture and attitude of the government, and it’s a big part of what motivates this commission.”

The committee will continue to hold public meetings every couple of weeks and will present a report within 100 days of its first meeting, said the former assistant U.S. attorney.

Collins said he was asked to select a committee made up of “people of good faith and accomplishment.”

“There’s no perfect person for this commission and no required experience,” he said. “I wanted to draw from the community people who aren’t steeped in ways of government but who were people who have the organization to meet goals.”

Fitzgerald, who has served as NU’s football coach since 2006, said this is his first experience with politics.

“I’ve been learning quite a bit about ethics and nuisances in the state government, but hopefully I can help make a difference as someone born and raised in the great state of Illinois,” he said.

The other members of the commission represent a variety of professional backgrounds. They include the Cook County State’s Attorney, the president of DePaul University and the former managing editor of the Chicago Tribune.

“You could look at the commission members, and it’s a very different set of people,” said University President Henry Bienen.

When NU athletic director Jim Phillips asked if Fitzgerald could serve on the commission, Bienen said it was up to Fitzgerald.

“I thought it would be time-consuming, but if Pat wanted to do it, and it was okay with Jim, then he should do it,” Bienen said.

Fitzgerald did not comment on Blagojevich but said the case was not the focus of the commission.

“There’s a little blemish on the great state and reputation of Illinois,” he said. “I don’t know if we will create anything new or anything earth-shattering, but the whole point is to try to make a difference and make Illinois better.”

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