Can Fairley win Black voters in race for Illinois Attorney General?

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Sharon Fairley

Crusader staff report

Sharon Fairley, former head of Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability, has officially entered the race for Illinois Attorney General, but can she win the Black vote with ties to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Police Department? Or will her Democratic opponent Kwame Raoul sweep Chicago’s Black electorate en route to victory?

These are questions that have emerged after Fairley made the official announcement on Monday, October 10 hoping to succeed incumbent Lisa Madigan, who is not seeking reelection after 14 years as the state’s top attorney.

Fairley launched her campaign for the March 2018 Democratic primary election at the law offices of Hinshaw and Culbertson in the Loop.

Police shootings and the battle to reform Chicago’s police culture are still hot items among voters that are bound to shape the race for Illinois Attorney General. A scathing U.S. Justice Department report concluded that the Chicago Police Department harassed and profiled Blacks in underserved neighborhoods. Madigan sued the city August 29 to force Emanuel and the police department to implement reforms under a court ordered consent decree. After President Donald Trump took office, Emanuel backpedaled on his promise to implement reforms, forcing Black Lives Matter’s activists to file their own lawsuit to enforce court-monitored reforms.

The issue is likely to continue after Madigan leaves office, but questions remain whether Fairley has the trust of Black voters to continue pressing the issue against a mayor and a police department that she has ties to. When she accepted the help of the Independent Police Review Panel, Fairley was dogged with questions of whether she and her department can remain independent of the mayor’s influence, after a suppressed video of the killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was released in 2016.

That highly publicized case will likely keep the mayor and the issue of police brutality in the national spotlight as it continues to play out in pre-trial hearings. Fairley was the head of IPRA and COPA for a total of two years, but her appointment by the mayor may repel Black voters who don’t trust her because of ties to City Hall.

Then there is her opponent Kwame Raoul, a prominent Black State Senator who announced his bid for Illinois Attorney General September 20, hoping to help bring about criminal justice reforms. Raoul is using his background as a prosecutor and legislator to appeal to Black voters who are concerned about the future of Illinois’ criminal justice system, especially Cook County, where the majority of inmates are Black males like Raoul himself.

Fairley is also highlighting her background as a former prosecutor on the state and federal levels, and her work on IPRA. She also highlighted her role as a Black mother, which she believes gives her a “unique” skill over her opponents. But whether she can appear genuine or demonstrate empathy with Black voters and relatives of victims killed by police remains to be seen.

Despite these questions, Fairley is moving forward in her campaign.

“Today, our civil rights are under siege. Our next attorney general must defend our people and our local governments against the Trump administration’s regressive and unconstitutional attacks,” Fairley said in launching her campaign.

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