As the staunch, smart and earnest lead prosecutor who put former-Gov. George Ryan in jail, Patrick Collins was in some ways a sort of Fitzy Jr. to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald when Collins worked as federal prosecutor.
Since leaving the office in 2007 to join the private firm of Perkins Cole, Collins has become a staple television analyst and occasional Op-Ed contributor whose insights into the process and thinking of his former employer are invaluable - and who sometimes (jarringly) even offers a sympathetic view of defendants.
Now, Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn is turning to Collins to do what no one in the history of Illinois has been able to do: clean the place up. Quinn on Monday appointed Collins to lead a new commission charged with charting a reform agenda to "fumigate" the never-ending culture of sleaze in these parts.
"The purpose of this commission is to take someone of impeccable integrity, as its leader, and within a short period of time…really lay out for the people a blueprint for reform - whether it be laws that we need or changes in practice,” Quinn said.
"The commission may have public hearings, Quinn said, and will consider input from voters who visit a website the lieutenant governor has created: www.reformillinoisnow.org," the Sun-Times reports.
While the creation of an ethics commission seems like a bit of political theater when there already is no shortage of well-worn reform ideas floating around that have been shot down for years, the time may finally be ripe now that Rod Blagojevich has turned the art of corruption in this state into a joke. Then again, Blagojevich was elected in part on promises of reform after the debacle of Ryan's tenure as secretary of state and governor.
Collins isn't likely to ignore city government either.
"You've said that some of the crimes you've prosecuted were 'condoned and facilitated' by high-ranking officials in City Hall," James Ylisela Jr. said to him during a Chicago magazine interview two years ago.
"[Convicted former water department boss] Don Tomczak testified at the Sorich trial that he was building the [political] army and getting rewarded to build the army, and that was all celebrated [at City Hall]," Collins replied. "You cannot do that in an operation that has zero tolerance for [corruption].
Last June, Collins wrote in the Tribune that two lessons could be gleaned from the Ryan case.
"First, when campaign contributions are mixed with official government business (such as in the sale of truck licenses for contributions) the results can be toxic and tragic.
"Second, when insiders who are not on the government payroll are granted authority in government decision-making (such as awarding lucrative real estate and consulting contracts), government loses accountability. Decisions are based on the insiders’ agenda, not the public’s."
Illinois Republican Party Chairman Andy McKenna said the panel was Quinn's attempt to "cultivate a newfound reformer image."
"If Pat Quinn was serious about reforming Illinois, he would have done it prior to being Rod Blagojevich's running mate in 2006 and before the governor's arrest 27 days ago," McKenna said in a statement.
Asked why voters should have faith in the latest calls for reform, Quinn responded that the allegations against Blagojevich are so jarring that they should help create consensus.
"This is an alarm bell in the night for everyone," he said.
Panel recommendations would be strictly advisory, carrying no legal force. Nothing in Illinois law explicitly provides for lieutenant governors to form advisory panels, but nothing prohibits it, said Quinn spokesmen Bob Reed.
"Just by virtue of the office, he can do this," Reed said. "It's not in conflict with any constitutional provisions."