Fred Rhine legally became Patrick Michael O’Brien On Oct. 7. He plans to run for the position of judge in the “Windy City” next year.
In an interview with the Irish Echo yesterday, O’Brien confessed he had no known Irish relatives, and confirmed that he did not even know the words to “Danny Boy.”
Describing his ruse as “a commentary on what it takes to win” in Chicago’s Irish-American dominated political bear-pit, O’Brien said he would rather run based on his credentials.
A lawyer of some 19 years’ of practice under his belt, O’Brien describes himself as a legal scholar. He found his original German-Danish surname was not enough to propel him past Irish-sounding candidates with little experience.
“It is a crazy quilt system that sometimes rewards the least informed lawyers who have the most familiar name,” he said.
“I have been given kudos for mocking a system that needs to be changed,” he added.
While local newspapers have treated Rhine’s “conversion” to O’Brien lightly, his family is somewhat skeptical. His wife and children have kept his former name.
“I’m not going to impose a name change on my wife and kids,” O’Brien said. “I don’t know if I knew what I was getting myself into!”
O’Brien hopes that elections for judges will one day change so that they reward meritorious candidates, and warns that decisions by uninformed voters could end up damaging the judicial system.
“The noble thing to do would have been to run under my name, continue to lose and die a bitter old man,” he said. “Hopefully the name change is what I need to get elected.”
O’Brien’s gimmick echoes that of early 20th century Italian gangsters who would adopt Irish-American identities as a way of fooling the authorities.
New York’s mafia boss Frank Costello was originally Francesco Castiglia.
In Martin A. Gosch and Richard Hammer’s biography “The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano,” the Italian-American mobster claimed that he had himself fabricated the nickname for his associate Castiglia.
“When we got up to our ears in New York politics, it didn’t hurt at all that we had an Italian guy with us named Costello,” Luciano explained.