Pubdate: Sun, 24 Mar 2013
Source: Chicago Sun-Times (IL)
Copyright: 2013 Sun-Times Media, LLC
Author: Tom Durkin
Note: Tom Durkin, a Chicago lawyer, is a former assistant U.S. attorney.
Page: 18A


Last week's press leak that the Obama administration has settled on 
Zach Fardon as its choice to replace Patrick Fitzgerald as the next 
U.S. attorney in Chicago raises larger questions - not about Fardon, 
but about those in the selection process who made the decision to 
continue the uninterrupted 158-year run of white male U.S. attorneys 
by not nominating the other finalist, Lori Lightfoot, a well 
qualified African-American woman

Chicago has any number of lawyers who were eminently qualified to 
fill the position Sen. Peter Fitzgerald unnecessarily felt compelled 
to fill with an outsider in his 2001 selection of Patrick Fitzgerald. 
The candidates who cleared Sen. Dick Durbin's screening committee 
this time comprised as impressive a list of lawyers as could be found 
anywhere in the country.

Of the four finalists named in December, each was a former federal 
prosecutor with established credentials. Any one of the four would 
have been a good choice to fill Patrick Fitzgerald's big, but not 
irreplaceable, shoes. So we have known for some time now that the 
office would remain in good hands.

But that is hardly the only issue. Now, 21 of the country's 93 U.S. 
attorneys are women. The glass ceiling has long been broken in many 
of the major metropolitan U.S. attorney's offices, such as New York 
City, Boston, Detroit, San Francisco and San Diego. Nor has this 
breakthrough been limited to traditionally blue states. Women have 
made it in such red states as Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, 
Nebraska, Texas and Arizona.

This is where the Obama administration's pass on Lightfoot becomes 
unsettling and raises far bigger questions than simply whether Fardon 
is a highly qualified choice - which he most certainly is. How it is 
that from the countless talented female lawyers in Chicago, including 
the impressive number of talented women who have served as assistant 
U.S. attorneys, not one has ever been able to break through Chicago's 
patriarchal glass ceiling?

The spurning of Lightfoot unfortunately raises as well the ugly 
specter of race in a city that for all its diversity seems unable to 
surmount in its community relations and politics. The legal community 
in this town should have been forced to concede a long time ago that 
there are many qualified African-American lawyers, including a number 
of former and present African-American assistant U.S. attorneys - a 
number of whom are women - who merited a shot at the top job long 
before now. This is why lawyers who practice every day in the federal 
building and care about things like equality and the appearance of 
fairness - not incidental matters for a courthouse that sends a 
disproportionately large number of African Americans and minorities 
to prison - thought for sure the time had finally come for both an 
African American and a female in the appointment of Lightfoot.

Nor is it simply appearances at stake here. Forty years into the war 
on drugs, it continues mindlessly with its draconian sentences that 
most often disproportionately impact our minority communities. Yet 
the Chicago Police publicly wonders why it gets no inner-city 
neighborhood cooperation against the gangs that control the unabated 
flow of drugs.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently called for the next U.S. attorney to 
focus more on drugs and guns and less on corruption. That request 
ignores many law enforcement observations that the very increase in 
the alarming gang-related homicide rates is an unintended consequence 
of past federal strategy that dismantled the major gangs, splintering 
them into smaller, less disciplined and more violent factions.

The solution will never be simply more incarceration or more 
effective law enforcement. It will require leadership that can 
overcome the fear, suspicion and mistrust that the war on drugs has 
wrought minority communities.

For that purpose, diversity might well signal the very commonality 
needed for meaningful dialogue and engagement.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom