Chicago’s next US attorney faces urgent dilemma

CHICAGO – Chicago’s next U.S. attorney faces a dilemma sprung from the twin evils bedeviling America’s third-largest city.

Should he zero in on Illinois’ deep pool of political corruption with the resolve of his predecessor, who sent two governors to prison? Or should he devote even more resources to the gang- and drug-related violence that has claimed hundreds of lives, including in neighborhoods near President Barack Obama’s own house?

The urgency of the question was highlighted by a weekend of violence that left seven people dead and more than three dozen wounded. But it’s unclear what, if anything, U.S. attorneys can do to stem the bloodshed that has not already been tried.

The same question has arisen in other big cities, including New York and Los Angeles.

“Some think federal prosecutors can ride in on a white horse and end street crime. They can’t,” said Laurie Levenson, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles. “The question is – how do you coordinate efforts of local and federal authorities? There’s a role for both.”

Other federal prosecutors have used the power of their office to attack urban crime. Rudy Giuliani became New York City mayor after first gaining prominence in the 1980s as a crime-busting U.S. attorney in Manhattan. And New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie built his political career on his reputation as a U.S. attorney who convicted public officials.

The pressure on Zachary Fardon has been especially intense.

After the White House recently named him to replace Patrick Fitzgerald, Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin – the Senate’s second-most powerful member – and Republican Sen. Mark Kirk called on Fardon to target guns, gangs and drugs. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has also urged Fardon to make city violence a top priority.

The city’s murder tally topped 500 in 2012, the first time since 2008 it hit that mark. Though the murder rate has declined in 2013, the killing early this year of 15-year-old honor student Hadiya Pendleton a mile from Obama’s home put the issue back in the national news.