Illinois: Junior Senator|
Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R)
Last Updated July 14, 2003
Peter Fitzgerald, a Republican born in 1960 and elected to the Senate in 1998, is the third-youngest member of the Senate. He grew up in the affluent northwest suburb of Inverness--as Republican as Chicago is Democratic. His father started a suburban bank chain and sold it to the Bank of Montreal in 1994 for $246 million, netting his son some $40 million in stock. Fitzgerald went to Catholic schools and majored in Latin and Greek at Dartmouth; after a year in Greece he went to Michigan Law School. In his college years he was an intern for Congressman Philip Crane--now the senior Republican in the House--and organized a New Hampshire rally for Crane's 1980 presidential campaign. In 1988 Fitzgerald lost a close primary for the state House; in 1992 he was elected to the state Senate. There he opposed tax increases and was known as one of the "Fab Five" conservatives. In 1994 he spent more than $700,000 of his own money challenging Crane in a primary, and lost by only 40%-33%.
Fitzgerald won his Senate seat by beating incumbent Democrat Carol Moseley-Braun, who had become the first black woman senator in 1992. She had a mostly liberal record but tended closely to Chicago and Downstate business interests. But she had terrible problems, including a report that she had split among herself and siblings a $28,750 inheritance owed to her mother, a nursing home resident who was supposed to have reimbursed Medicaid with the money; a month-long trip to Africa after her election with her South African campaign manager and ex-fianc Kgosie Matthews, where they allegedly spent some $281,000 in campaign funds; and a "private" visit to Nigeria with Matthews, a former registered agent of the Nigerian government, where they met with now-deceased dictator General Sani Abacha without the normal checking-in with the State Department. As a result, Moseley-Braun's poll numbers dropped to near-record lows. But Democrats shied away from challenging the only black senator, and the best-known Republicans declined to run. Fitzgerald announced in April 1997, but Edgar and other Republican leaders, fresh from watching abortion opponent Al Salvi lose the 1996 Senate race, did not want an abortion opponent as the nominee. They encouraged Comptroller Loleta Didrickson, though she was reluctant to run. Fitzgerald spent some $7 million in the primary, starting off with warm ads showing him as a basic suburban father, then calling for lower taxes. Fitzgerald attacked Didrickson as a tax-raiser; Didrickson called him "the trust fund kid" and argued that he would lose the general election. She was heavily outspent, but Fitzgerald won by only 52%-48%, losing the suburbs narrowly but carrying Downstate 59%-41%.
In the general, Fitzgerald attacked "six years of scandal and controversy" and said that Moseley-Braun had "been to Nigeria more than she's been to Rockford." Moseley-Braun fought back. In ads she conceded, "I know I've made some mistakes and disappointed some people. But I want you to know that I've always tried to do what's best for Illinois." Moseley-Braun accused Fitzgerald of running a stealth campaign and relying on ads, and she performed credibly in debate. But Fitzgerald, with more than $14 million of his own money, outspent her 2-1. Fitzgerald won by just 50%-47%, losing Cook and four small Downstate counties and carrying the other 97. Moseley-Braun carried Cook County heavily, but Fitzgerald was ahead in the suburbs and he carried the rest of the state 60%-36%.
In the Senate, Fitzgerald has set his own course, opposing fellow Republicans on key issues while compiling a mostly conservative record. He surprised colleagues by voting for the Democrats' HMO regulation bills, for background checks at gun shows, for the Democrats' prescription drug bill and for a Democratic lockbox proposal for Medicare in March 2001. He got into the 2001 tax bill a provision exempting from income tax compensation payments to Holocaust survivors. He voted for the McCain-Feingold campaign finance regulation bill. He has not put his holdings into a blind trust, but has refrained from voting on bills with impact on banking, like the financial services deregulation bill.
Fitzgerald and colleague Richard Durbin continued a previous practice of holding weekly breakfasts for Illinois constituents and worked together to promote ethanol. But his relations with Durbin and with other Illinois Republicans were frayed by Fitzgerald's lonely stands on Illinois issues. He refused to sign an Illinois delegation letter supporting Illinois projects, instead writing, "The mere fact that a project is located somewhere in Illinois does not mean that it is inherently meritorious and necessarily worthy of support." One such project was the Abraham Lincoln Library project in Springfield. In October 2000 he conducted a two-day filibuster insisting on federal standards and charging that the state's bidding process would result in a sweetheart contract for a crony of Republican Governor George Ryan. This was a head-on attack on Speaker Dennis Hastert, who had supported the Illinois competitive-bidding system in the House. "I find Senator Fitzgerald's political grandstanding on the Abraham Lincoln Library outrageous," Hastert wrote. Fitzgerald called Hastert's position "morally and ethically wrong," but his filibuster did not prevail.
Another cause that sets Fitzgerald apart from his colleagues was expansion of O'Hare Airport. In December 2001 George Ryan and Mayor Richard M. Daley reached agreement on its terms. Fitzgerald opposes expansion and, with House members Henry Hyde and Jesse Jackson, Jr., backs a third Chicago area airport in Peotone, south of the city. In October 1999 he filed 304 amendments against a bill by John McCain that would have increased the number of slots at O'Hare; McCain accused him of jeopardizing the safety of airline passengers and Fitzgerald withdrew the amendments and agreed to 30 more slots at O'Hare--far fewer than in New York's LaGuardia. In October 2001 he cast the lone vote in the Senate against the airline aid bill ("a gift of billions of taxpayer dollars, the ultimate effect of which will be to enrich sophisticated investors in these airlines") and in November 2002 he declined to sign a delegation letter supporting aid for United Airlines, one of O'Hare's major tenants. In December 2001 he filibustered an O'Hare expansion bill that would have put the Daley-Ryan agreement into federal law, and throughout 2002 threatened to filibuster it again. Speaker Dennis Hastert and 3d District Congressman William Lipinski got the House to pass a similar measure by a two-thirds vote, but Durbin was unwilling or unable to put the measure on the floor in the face of Fitzgerald's filibuster threat. In October 2002 Fitzgerald placed a hold on all aviation legislation, which held up approval of allowing pilots to carry guns in cockpits. By this time, his relations with Durbin had cooled greatly.
By late 2002 Fitzgerald was highly unpopular with Illinois politicians of both parties. In November 2002 18th District Republican Ray LaHood told the Chicago Sun-Times, "I'm thinking about trying to make sure that Peter has an opponent" in the Republican primary. "I think we can do better than him." LaHood said that Fitzgerald did nothing to help Republican candidates south of I-80 in 2002 and didn't show up at a rally in Springfield two days before the election. "I've been disenchanted with Fitzgerald for a long time, but when he really trashed Denny Hastert that was just the straw that broke the camel's back for me." Fitzgerald's response: "I am single-minded, and I have single-mindedly tried to do everything in my power to clean up the rot in Springfield with measures like competitive bidding for the Lincoln Library to protect against George Ryan's cronies. That doesn't sit well with Mr. LaHood, who apparently comes from another school." In November 2002 the Republican state committee met and declined to support Fitzgerald for reelection. Two businessmen capable of self-financing were mentioned as primary opponents: Andy McKenna of Schwartz Paper Company in Morton Grove and Jack Ryan, who considered running against Durbin in 2002.
Fitzgerald was certainly the national Democrats' number one target in the 2004 Senate races. He won in 1998 by only 50%-47%, against a candidate with grave problems and, as he points out, he represents a state more Democratic in recent presidential elections than any other Republican senator except Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. Even before the 2002 election, many Democrats were lining up to run against him. But in April 2003 Fitzgerald announced he would not seek reelection; he cited as reasons a desire to spent time with his family and the high costs of a competitive campaign. Republicans immediately looked to popular former Governor Jim Edgar as the party's best chance to hold the seat; President George W. Bush made a personal call to persuade him to run. But in May, Edgar announced he would not seek the seat.
Aside from McKenna and Jack Ryan, a handful of other Republicans drew mention as possible candidates after Edgar declined to run; state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, the only Republican to win statewide in 2002, declined to run. On the Democratic side, former Chicago School Board president (and former chief of staff to Mayor Daley) Gerry Chico raised $1 million by the end of 2002; he would have a head start on Illinois's growing number of Hispanic voters. Chicago insiders seemed convinced that Daley would back investment banker Blair Hull, who sold his firm to Goldman Sachs in 1999 for $531 million and said he would spend $40 million on the race. State Senator Barack Obama, an accomplished legislator and the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, formally announced his candidacy in January 2003; about one-quarter of Illinois's Democratic primary voters are black, and his appeal could cross racial lines. State Comptroller Dan Hynes would be the youngest candidate; he was first elected to his statewide office in 1998 at age 30. And Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas, in the middle of a four-year term, said she might run, because "there is absolutely nothing for me to lose."
Illinois's filing date is in December and its primary in March, one of the nation's earliest.
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202-224-2854; Fax: 202-228-1372; Web site: www.fitzgerald.senate.gov
312-886-3506; Dixon,815-288-3140; Glen Carbon,618-692-0364; Springfield,217-492-5089.
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Key Votes Of The 107th Congress
|1. Approve Bush Tax Cuts
|2. Expand Patients' Rights
|3. Campaign Finance Reform
|4. Permit ANWR Development
|5. Confirm Ashcroft as AG
|6. Bar Gays in the Boy Scouts
| 7. $ for Hate Crime Prosecution
| 8. Overseas Military Abortions
| 9. Bar Coop. with Intl. Court
|10. Trade Promotion Authority
|11. Authorize Force in Iraq
|12. Homeland Sec. Dept. Union
||Peter Fitzgerald (R)
|Carol Moseley-Braun (D)
||Peter Fitzgerald (R)
|Loleta Didrickson (R)
||Carol Moseley-Braun (D)
|Richard S. Williamson (R)
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