Peter Fitzgerald (politician)

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Peter Fitzgerald
Peter Fitzgerald.jpg
United States Senator
from Illinois
In office
January 3, 1999 – January 3, 2005
Preceded by Carol Moseley Braun
Succeeded by Barack Obama
Illinois State Senator
from the 27th District
In office
January 13, 1993 – November 16, 1998
Preceded by Virginia B. Macdonald
Succeeded by Wendell E. Jones
Personal details
Born Peter Gosselin Fitzgerald
(1960-10-20) October 20, 1960 (age 63)
Elgin, Illinois, U.S.
Nationality United States
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Nina Fitgerald
Alma mater Dartmouth College
Aristotelian University
University of Michigan
Religion Roman Catholic

Peter Gosselin Fitzgerald (born October 20, 1960) is a former United States Senator from Illinois. A Republican, he served from 1999 to 2005. Fitzgerald defeated the Democratic incumbent in 1998, becoming the first Republican senator from Illinois in 20 years. He had previously served in the Illinois State Senate from 1992 to 1998.

Known as a maverick for his willingness to break party lines, Fitzgerald retired from the Senate in 2005 and was succeeded by Barack Obama.

After retiring from politics, he and his wife moved to McLean, Virginia. The son of millionaire banking magnate Gerald Francis Fitzgerald,[1] Peter founded Chain Bridge Bank in 2007.[2]

Early life

Born in Elgin, Illinois, one of five children of Gerald Francis and Marjorie (née Gosselin) Fitzgerald,[3] he graduated from Portsmouth Abbey School, a Catholic boarding school in 1978, and from Dartmouth College in 1982. He completed his post-graduate studies as a Rotary Scholar at Aristotelian University in Greece, and earned his law degree from the University of Michigan in 1986. His family has been continuously involved in commercial banking since the mid-1940s.[4] His father built Suburban Bancorp, a chain of suburban banks, by aggressively founding and buying banks around the Chicago suburbs, which he sold in 1994 to a subsidiary of the Bank of Montreal for $246 million.[4]

Political career

State Senate

Fitzgerald was first elected to the state Senate in 1992. He was a member of a group of conservative state senators elected in 1992. They often challenged the leadership of the Illinois Republican Party and were dubbed the "Fab Five." The group also included Steve Rauschenberger, Dave Syverson, Patrick O'Malley and Chris Lauzen.[5]

1998 senatorial campaign

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Fitzgerald announced his intention to challenge Democratic incumbent U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun in the 1998 election. He faced Illinois Comptroller Loleta Didrickson in the Republican primary. Didrickson had the support of the state Republican party, including Governor Jim Edgar and former Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole, who served as her national campaign chairman.[6] A hard-fought primary ensued, and Fitzgerald narrowly defeated the establishment candidate, becoming the Republican nominee.

Despite great support from Republicans and Independents, he had alienated some of the party establishment during the primary. Meanwhile, Braun was helped by notable Democrats such as First Lady Hillary Clinton and U.S. Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez; final polling had the candidates running even.[7] Fitzgerald defeated the first-term Senator Carol Moseley Braun in the general election, by a 2.9% margin.

He was the first Republican in Illinois to win a U.S. Senate race in 20 years and the only Republican challenger in the country to defeat an incumbent Democratic senator in the 1998 election cycle.

Senate tenure

Fitzgerald had two major moments in the spotlight in the Senate, the first in 2000 when he filibustered a massive federal spending bill because it included funds for the Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield. He did it to bring to light the Democrat-controlled Illinois state government's failure to promise competitive bidding for the project. His second major moment was following the September 11, 2001 attacks, when Congress quickly passed a massive bailout measure for most of the major airlines, which were in trouble financially. Standing alone out of all members of the U.S. Senate, Fitzgerald delivered a speech, "Who will bail out the American taxpayer",[8] arguing that the airlines would simply go through the money and remain financially unstable. The bill passed 99-1.

Fitzgerald is a staunch conservative on such issues as opposition to abortion (except to save the life of the mother), gay marriage and taxes, but on some issues, particularly environmental issues, he opposed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge throughout his tenure in the US Senate and broke with conservative colleagues. Fitzgerald also supported "reasonable" gun control, immigration reform and the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation.

Throughout his tenure in the Senate, Fitzgerald battled with the state Republican Party leadership. He insisted on the appointment of an out-of-state US attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald (unrelated[9]) to investigate corruption in the Illinois state government. Though state party officials wanted a "friendly" attorney for Illinois, Fitzgerald insisted on someone who did not have friends or enemies in the Illinois government. Several indictments resulted, including that of former Republican Governor George Ryan, who was later convicted of several criminal abuses of authority, and Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich, who was convicted of attempting to sell the Senate seat vacated by Fitzgerald's successor and President-elect Barack Obama. The appointment was seen as key in destroying Illinois' reputation as politically corrupt.[10]

When the Republican establishment made clear that they would not be support him for reelection, Fitzgerald announced he would retire at the end of his current term. Republicans nominated Jack Ryan for the seat, though Ryan was forced to withdraw because of a sex scandal. Just 86 days before the election, the party drafted Maryland native Alan Keyes as the nominee. Keyes was accused of "carpetbagging,"[11][12][13][14] and was defeated by Barack Obama by more than 40 percent of the vote. Ironically, Fitzgerald, who was popular among independents, stood the best chance of retaining the seat and defeating Obama. Had he won, Obama pribably would not have been elected president four years later.[10]

During his final months in office, FoxNews ran an op-ed on Fitzgerald, "Retiring Senator Stood Up for Principles."[15] In 2009, conservative journalist John Fund wrote:

"Sen. Fitzgerald also labeled an Illinois congressional delegation 'wish list' of $600 million in projects being submitted to President Bush as a 'mega-hog letter... The mere fact that a project is located somewhere within the state of Illinois does not mean that it is inherently meritorious", he wrote to speaker Hastert, who called such criticism 'grandstanding' ... [T]he senator accused GOP governor George Ryan, now serving a six-and-a-half-year prison sentence on a corruption conviction, of opposing competitive bidding rules so he could dole money to political allies. 'I want Illinois to get a $150 million (Abraham Lincoln) library, not a $50 million library that just happens to cost $150 million', Fitzgerald told fellow senators."[16]

Post-political career

Fitzgerald is Chairman of Chain Bridge Bank, N.A. in McLean, Virginia.[17][18] He serves on the Board of Trustees of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, which is a museum dedicated to the U.S. Constitution.[19]

Electoral history

  • 1998 Republican Primary - U.S. Senate
  • 1998 General Election - U.S. Senate


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  14. Keyes had strongly accused Hillary Clinton in 2000 for carpetbagging in New York. Alan Keyes on the Tavis Smiley Show (NPR)
  15. Retiring Senator Stood Up for Principles
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External links

Illinois Senate
Preceded by Illinois State Senator from 27th district
January 13, 1993 – November 16, 1998
Succeeded by
Wendell E. Jones
United States Senate
Preceded by U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Illinois
January 6, 1999 – January 3, 2005
Served alongside: Richard Durbin
Succeeded by
Barack Obama
Party political offices
Preceded by Republican Party nominee for United States Senator from Illinois
(Class 3)

Succeeded by
Jack Ryan
Alan Keyes
(general election)
Honorary titles
Preceded by Youngest Member of the United States Senate
Succeeded by
John E. Sununu