In the continuing aftermath of the shooting of young Chicagoan Laquan McDonald the Chicago Cook County Democratic Party, on Thursday, bypassed endorsing current State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, and instead endorsed Kim Foxx a former Cook County official, who is supported by Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
Many fault Alvarez for delaying the prosecution of the the policeman, Jason Van Dyke, who shot the black teen 16 times, as he was walking away from the police. His death has sparked not only protests against her, but also from many in Chicago’s black community who have demanded the resignation of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
The Chicago Sun Times reported that, he “shot 17-year-old McDonald 16 times in October 2014, but Van Dyke was charged with murder only in November 2015. Alvarez has insisted that investigating and prosecuting police misconduct is time-consuming and something that is critical to get right, while critics have questioned her commitment to holding cops accountable for wrongdoing.”
Foxx responded to her endorsement, with the following statement: “I’m very humbled by it. I’m a lifelong Democrat. We are in really trying times as a county. So for the party to come out and support me in this race — given what’s happening — it means a lot.”
While previously there had been no plans for an endorsement from the party, the fact that they have done so reflects not only growing disenchantment with Alvarez, whose tenure has not been without rancor, but more importantly a debate on how policing and, in particular, the prosecution of minority men, for often low level crimes, which has filled the prisons.
Preckwinkle in particular has been outspoken on this issue and has said, “When we’re talking about criminal justice in this country, we have to understand that we’re talking about race and class,” she said. “Those aren’t comfortable subjects for most Americans to address.”
She also noted that “any discussion of criminal justice reform must address the fact that African-Americans and Hispanics comprise 86 percent of Cook County Jail population but only about half of the county’s population.”
The financial cost has also become a burden to cash strapped Illinois, and Preckwinkle says, “We spend roughly half a billion dollars on the jail every year. Seventy percent of the people are awaiting trial for nonviolent offenses, and the recidivism rate is about 52 percent.”
Inevitably, accusations of nepotism and control have entered what promises to be a contentious election in March for the office, and another challenger, Donna More, has said that she did not want the committee’s support, but showed up on Thursday anyway, and said, “I’m not here today seeking your political endorsement,” and that “Politics has already done enough to damage our criminal justice system.”
Yet, with her prior rejection of their support, and the national spotlight on Chicago’s policing problem, the Foxx endorsement was almost a given, according to some observers, including a member, who said on deep background, that More, “gave us no other choice.”
Alvarez, who is not without established support, most notably from Ald. Ed Burke, is still in the bull’s eye, with local politicians, among them South Side Ald. Roderick Sawyer, and the Democratic ward committeeman, “who also serves as chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, said he’s hopeful Cook County Democrats will unite behind Foxx and that there will be no ward organizations free-lancing for Alvarez,” also says the Sun-Times.
But Sawyer was concerned enough about that possibility — “by powerful ward bosses John Daley (11th), Edward Burke (14th), Richard Mell (33rd) and possibly Mike Madigan (13th) — to demand party “discipline,” which could weaken Foxx’s chances.
Perhaps anticipating that day, he notably said, “Kim Foxx is now part of the Democratic Party slate. We should all — 50 [city ward] committeemen, 30 [suburban] township committeemen, all 80 of us — should be going forward supporting Kim Foxx 100 percent. . . . Those that violate it should not be getting party support. Bottom line.”
For her turn, Alvarez, issued a blast of her own, at a campaign event, downtown, when she said, “It’s clear to everyone that Ms. Foxx was put in this race by the Cook County Board president,” Alvarez said. “The voters of Cook County need to ask themselves: Are you going to have a state’s attorney who is going to be totally independent or are you going to have a state’s attorney who is going to take orders from the president of the County Board?”
In September of last year, at a meeting of the local Democratic Party, reported the independent news weekly Chicago Reader, Alvarez “kept her distance. Though she’s the two-term incumbent state’s attorney—the top prosecutor in one of the largest court systems in the country—Alvarez looked wary and defensive, as if she were about to go on trial herself. In a sense, she was: amid a growing national movement for changes to the criminal justice system, Alvarez knew she would have a hard time convincing the leaders of her party to back her for another four years.”
“Alvarez has one of the hardest jobs in local government, but at many points in her tenure she’s pursued a brand of justice widely seen as vindictive and defensive—aimed at people who are less a threat to public safety than to the image of law enforcement,” they claimed, and especially in light of the McDonald case, which has cost her more of her reputation.
She has, however, earned accolades in the past for cracking down on sex-trafficking and the more heinous crimes of rape, but has also garnered her share of critics for viewing revaluations of some of her convictions, as unwarranted and unnecessary, and even taking affront to the fact that they were even asked for, but also, and perhaps most damaging in today’s distrust of policing in minority communities, some of “her critics say, Alvarez has decided to use the resources of her office to prosecute undeserving or powerless people, often while protecting cops and political insiders,” noted the Reader.
Earlier last year ,in an effort, many say, to silence some of her critics she announced at a press conference, that “charges would be dropped in most misdemeanor marijuana possession cases. Those nabbed three or more times would be given the option of undergoing drug counseling, as would thousands of people picked up with small amounts of hard drugs, including cocaine and heroin.”
Alvarez, a Latina, has also lost significant support from local Hispanic leaders, one of whom is Ald. Proco Joe Moreno, who said, “She has a prosecute-them-first, ask-questions-later mentality,” Moreno says. “I love to empower Latinos, and we need more representation, but she’s not a progressive state’s attorney.”
In December of last year, she also lost the significant support of Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who wrote in a letter to her, that was obtained by the Sun-Times, “I will not be voting for you next March.” He wrote, ““Laquan McDonald deserved justice: not last week, but thirteen months ago. You failed in this regard. The delay was inexcusable. I am not calling for your resignation. An election will be held soon enough. I will not be voting for you next March.”
The paper also noted that “A big Hispanic turnout in March is crucial to her political survival and Gutierrez is one of the most influential Hispanic Democrats in the state.”
Fox, Preckwinkle’s former chief of staff, and also a former prosecutor, has been accused of not having the level of experience that Alvarez has, and that ,if elected, would be under the thumb of her once powerful boss, a charge that she has denied.
“It’s so antithetical to who I am. It just is. But I’ve seen the theories. And people should push and question, to hold me to the fire in terms of my credentials. Am I the best person for the job separate and apart from Toni? If I am the best person for the job then I should be held to that. And the fact that I used to work for Toni should be part of my work history like the work history for anybody else,” she told Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass.
In the often contentious atmosphere of Chicago, and Cook county politics, jealousies and rivalry are not unknown, and Foxx’s candidacy received this comment: “I don’t care if it’s Mother Teresa, you do not want a state’s attorney who’s beholden to political bosses or anyone else,” says county commissioner Larry Suffredin, who lost to Alvarez in 2008.