Kim Foxx’s decision not to seek a third term as state’s attorney sets the stage for a political free-for-all not seen in 15 years in Cook County.
The last time there was an open seat in the prosecutor’s office, it was 2008. Dick Devine, the former first deputy who replaced Richard M. Daley in 1989, announced he would not seek re-election. That set the stage for the election of Devine’s top deputy, Anita Alvarez.
Alvarez served two terms before losing to Foxx in a landslide that followed the court-ordered release of video showing the fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald.
Alvarez made the monumental decision to charge now-convicted Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke with first-degree murder but it came too late to save her political career. A staunch supporter of Chicago police officers, Alvarez was held responsible for the long delay between the McDonald shooting and the murder charges.
On the night of Foxx’s election, her supporters chanted, “Two down. One to go.” The two were Alvarez and former Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy. The third was Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who subsequently decided not to seek a third term because it was clear he couldn’t win. Emanuel was accused of concealing the McDonald shooting video until he was safely re-elected to a second term.
Now, Foxx’s decision to call it quits after two terms has created yet another open seat in the prosecutor’s office.
For the moment at least, powerful Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who doubles as the Cook County Democratic chairman, has not anointed a replacement for Foxx, her political protégé and former chief of staff.
That creates a giant political opportunity for those willing to take the chance, raise the millions it takes to seek countywide office and endure the rigors and scrutiny of what could be an 18-month campaign.
With a law-and-order pedigree and a billionaire father who bankrolled his 2020 Democratic primary campaign for state’s attorney, newly elected Ald. Bill Conway in the downtown’s redrawn 34th Ward has demonstrated the interest and deep pockets that can make him an immediate contender.
His father, William Conway Jr., helped found the private equity firm the Carlyle Group and had a net worth pegged at $3.5 billion in 2020. The elder Conway was willing to write a $10.5 million check to bankroll his son’s losing 2020 campaign for state’s attorney against Kim Foxx, so surely he would support his son’s second run for what is now an open prosecutor’s seat.
Conway, who finished that 2020 race with 31.1% to Foxx’s 50.5%, released a statement Tuesday saying he is “squarely focused on the job I was just elected to do” and is “not considering” another race for state’s attorney.
He went out of his way to commend Foxx for her “historic work to reverse wrongful convictions, shine a light on racism in our criminal justice system and clear low-level cannabis records.”
Former Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson is, perhaps, the most intriguing name to surface. Before being publicly criticized, then forced out by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Ferguson spent a record 12 years as Chicago’s top watchdog. A former federal prosecutor who served with Lightfoot in the U.S. attorney’s office, Ferguson is widely regarded as the best inspector general Chicago has had.
That corruption-fighting reputation, gravitas and name recognition could serve him well in what would be his maiden voyage in politics. So could Ferguson’s well-honed communication skills.
But Ferguson would first have to leave the job he now holds as head of “Re-Imagine Chicago,” the non-profit he formed to transform what he calls Chicago’s “19th Century machine patronage culture” into a new structure of government capable of solving modern problems.
In a statement, Ferguson said Foxx’s decision to exit the political stage “presents an opportunity” and he will “make a decision in the coming weeks.”
Dan Kirk, who served as chief of staff and top assistant to Alvarez, told the Sun-Times he is seriously considering joining the race.
“What’s obviously clear to me is that Cook County is in desperate need of a new state’s attorney that will do the job with integrity, enforce the law, hold criminals accountable and make public safety their No. 1 priority,” Kirk said Tuesday in a telephone interview from Ireland.
“It’s something I’m considering, to be honest. I certainly haven’t made any decision on it one way or another. I’d like to see who shows interest in running for the position,” he said. “If not me, then it’s imperative that it’s somebody else who believes in the direction that I just articulated…. Joe Ferguson and Richard Boykin are looking at it. I know both of them. And I have respect for both of them. But I’m sure that there will be other names that surface as well.”
Boykin lost his seat on the Cook County Board after leading the drive to repeal Preckwinkle’s controversial soda pop tax. Preckwinkle got even by backing Brandon Johnson against Boykin. Johnson’s 2018 election to the County Board seat Boykin held launched Johnson on a path to the mayor’s office.
In a telephone interview hours before Foxx’s long-anticipated announcement, Boykin said he was “interested in running” for state’s attorney and has been “encouraged by a number of people who think I’d make an excellent state’s attorney.”
He added, “There’s plenty of time for us to discuss prosecutorial policy and the future of public safety in Cook County. Today is a day to express our appreciation to Kim Foxx for her sacrifice and her service as state’s attorney.”
Former Circuit Court Judge Pat O’Brien is the Republican nominee who lost to Foxx in a 54-to-39 percent landslide in 2020.
O’Brien all but ruled out another campaign for state’s attorney, in part because “I ran as a Republican and I can’t do a back-flip” by running as a Democrat in overwhelmingly Democratic Cook County.
“It certainly is difficult [to run as a Republican]. And it becomes more difficult in a presidential year when the top of the Republican ticket is someone who is so despised by various voters — both independent Democrats and maybe Republicans — that whoever has got that `R-‘ next to their name in the general election is just gonna have no chance,” O’Brien said.
“I never say never because I saw that movie—the remake of `Thunderball.’ But I would be reluctant to do it… Jack O’Malley, who I served under, was able to win in 1990 and `92. But those were different times. There were potentially more people [then] who thought either center of the road or Republican in the county. I got what, 840,000 or 860,000 votes. And I was still 300,000 votes short. Somebody come up with five million bucks and I’ll re-think this.”
Former Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) ran for state’s attorney against Foxx in 2020 and finished with just 5% of the vote in a four-way Democratic primary that included Donna More and Conway.
A perennial candidate who has run repeatedly for mayor and just ran for County Board president against Preckwinkle, Fioretti said he has “a lot of people urging me” to run for state’s attorney again in 2024 and he is “looking at it seriously.”
“I run to make change and that office has been a disaster. That office is run by Toni Preckwinkle. It’s not run by Kim Foxx. The morale in that office is at an all-time low. People are leaving in droves,” Fioretti said.
“If I run, I’m gonna do three things on the day that I win: One, thank the voters. Two, go to 35th and Michigan and tell the police somebody has their back. And three, go to 26th and California and tell them that we are going to begin prosecuting from now on. If you don’t want to do that, you can turn in your resignation now. Simple as that.”
Retiring Chicago Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) ran and lost a race for state’s attorney in the 2008 Democratic primary won by Alvarez. Brookins, 59, said Tuesday, “I don’t believe I will ever run for elective office again, although you never say never.”
Preckwinkle reportedly was vetting Foxx’s top deputy, Risa Lanier, to take over the office. Lanier, a career prosecutor, had served as the lead prosecutor on the Jussie Smollett case and was involved in negotiating the controversial— and ultimately voided— deal to drop charges against the actor.
Smollett’s case was eventually brought to trial by a special prosecutor, who issued a report that stated Lanier and then top deputy Joseph Magats gave conflicting accounts of the timeline and the reasoning for the decision to dismiss the case against Smollett.
In her speech to the City Club, Foxx referred to Lanier as “my rock,” and praised her handling of the prosecution of Shomari Legghette for the murder of Chicago PoliceCmdr. Paul Bauer.
Other possibilities include attorney Donna More, who has run twice to for the office, finishing third, retired Judge Arthur Hill Jr., criminal defense attorney Sam Adam Jr. and former federal prosecutor Sergio Acosta.
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April 25, 2023 at 03:27PM