Steve Chapman

He's not the first elected official to try to squeeze the Tribune. My former editor Jack Fuller recalls that when Jane Byrne was mayor in the 1980s, she came in to talk to the editorial board, which had been critical of her, and announced that the Tribune had certain things it wanted (some permits related to a new printing plant) and she had certain things she wanted (presumably, more favorable treatment). The publisher replied that she was out of line and suggested that she start over with her presentation.

When the Tribune-owned Chicago Cubs wanted permission to install lights at Wrigley Field, Ald. Ed Vrdolyak let it be known it would require an end to editorial criticism of him. An editorial responded that the Cubs would "be playing morning games on a sandlot in Gary first." Vrdolyak -- this will surprise you -- is now headed for prison, another victim of Fitzgerald.

But even the most hardened locals could not have imagined the latest tale. Fitzgerald said Blagojevich's alleged conduct "would make Lincoln roll over in his grave." Forget Lincoln. It would make Bonnie and Clyde flip their coffins.

What does all this have to do with Obama? As president, he can exercise the customary prerogative of replacing all U.S. attorneys with his own appointees. During the campaign, he indicated he was willing to leave Fitzgerald in place. But he is bound to come under pressure from politicians back home to name someone less obsessive about official vice.

Until this week, that option might have been appealing, since the resulting controversy would have been of interest only in Chicagoland. But now it has become a matter for national attention. For Obama to cashier Fitzgerald would make him look complicit in corruption.

In truth, the Blagojevich affair gives Obama the perfect excuse to do the right thing, no matter what the cost to his political friends. Then, for a change, the sun will keep shining on Illinois.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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