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Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Anita Alvarez: “I’ve Done Nothing Wrong”

The state’s attorney defends her decision not to charge Officer Jason Van Dyke for more than a year—and fires back at her political opponents.

 Photo: Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune

I’ve been covering the upcoming race for state’s attorney for months, including interviews with the candidates challenging incumbent Anita Alvarez in March: Kim Foxx and Donna More. Both are former prosecutors in the state’s attorney’s office, and neither had anything good to say about Alvarez, who won her first term in 2008 and is now trying desperately to win a third. So when I had the opportunity to talk to Alvarez last week, I had a lot of questions. 

I’d wager a lot that if one asked random passersby, “Who’s Anita Alvarez and what does she do?” they wouldn’t know, although her visibility has never been higher in the wake of the shooting deaths of Laquan McDonald, Quintonio LeGrier, and Bettie Jones. She holds the elected position as the chief prosecutor in Cook County. Her principal job, according to her web site, is “to prosecute criminal cases on behalf of crime victims,” but really it’s to prosecute anyone, including cops, who commits a crime in Cook County.   

I spoke with Alvarez, 55, last Tuesday in the Loop offices of her campaign strategists, P2 Consulting. Dressed in a teal-blue suit, black boots, little jewelry, and no apparent makeup, Alvarez looked tired, but she confidently answered most of my questions.

An edited and condensed transcript of our 80-minute conversation is below.          

How did you feel when protestors massed outside your office with their voices and placards calling on you to resign?

Obviously it doesn’t make you feel good when you hear these things. I think what we’ve seen and what I’ve learned from some of these protesters showing up at my office is that they’re organized, and one of my political opponents is behind it, showing up with empty boxes claiming that there’s signatures of people in them. The boxes are empty, and giving us a flash drive claiming there’s thousands of signatures and 95 percent of them are not from Chicago. I think we have to keep in mind that I am in the middle of a reelection. I have two opponents. For people who are protesting who have a passion and have a cause that they want to protest, I have no problem with that. I just ask that the protests be peaceful. Some of these calls for my resignation are not coming from the average citizen. They’re coming from a political opponent and people who are supporting a political opponent. To me, you take that with a grain of salt.

Do you mean Kim Foxx? And her former boss, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle? [Preckwinkle is strongly supporting Foxx, who until recently worked as Preckwinkle’s Chief of Staff.]

When it comes to Toni, several things. Kim Foxx is in this race because Toni Preckwinkle put her in this race. Toni has been shopping around to get someone to run against me for the past several years.

Why is that?

I think our relationship begins and ends with her trying to meddle into my office. I am a constitutional officer. I’m a separately elected official and I don’t work for her. I have a job to do and I’m going to continue to do it. Toni’s the vice-chair of the Cook County Democratic party. This is about power. This is about her controlling the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office. She has the ability to appoint the new public defender, which she has. This is about expanding her power base.

Kim Foxx no longer works for Preckwinkle. If Foxx were elected, what, in your opinion, would that mean?

I think we would have to be very cognizant of the fact that Toni Preckwinkle is a career politician. If she hand-picks who she wants in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, I think the question becomes, is Ms. Foxx going to independently make decisions or will decisions be made politically? That’s the question that I think citizens need to ask themselves.

Do you have an opinion about what Toni Preckwinkle wants? Does she want Rahm’s job?

I think you’ve got to ask her that. I don’t know.

When I read the day after Christmas about the 19-year-old Northern Illinois University student [Quintonio LeGrier] and the 55-year-old woman [Bettie Jones] shot to death by a policeman, I was shocked. I mean, this happened in the wake of the huge public outcry over the shooting of Laquan McDonald. What did you think when you heard?

I heard about it probably the way everybody else heard about it, through an alert on my phone. It’s always tragic when anybody loses their life, and, in this case, we have two people. That case is obviously now under investigation by IPRA [Independent Police Review Authority]. I really can’t go into the specifics of the facts, but they have been working on it since it happened. 

Would you expect then to bring charges against the policeman who fired the bullets at them?

It’s too soon to say, other than IPRA will bring the investigation eventually to us. [Last Thursday, after this interview was conducted, Alvarez asked the FBI to join the investigation.]

Is there a video, and have you seen it?

I’m unaware, but again, I really can’t comment on any specifics on the case.

Back to the McDonald case and the 400 days it took for the video to be released to the public and for you to bring charges. Why did it take so long?

That’s a two-part question. As far as the release of the video, I wasn’t a part of that. The city was FOIA’d and [so] the city that had control of that. When they reached that settlement [to pay the McDonald family $5 million] back in April, many of those aldermen who were critical of me now had the ability to release that video then and they didn’t do it.

As far as my investigation and my work with the United States attorney and the FBI, I can say this: Investigating police shootings is not routine; it’s more complex. It’s not the same as looking at a case where one civilian shoots another. There’s a lot that comes into play with investigating a police shooting and seeing whether or not you’re going to charge an officer criminally. You have to know the case law that’s relevant. You have to know the use-of-force model. You have to know how these officers are trained. It’s just so much more complex than one gangbanger shooting another. … I will not apologize for the meticulous, thorough investigation we did. As we sit here today, the United States attorney still has not finished his end of the investigation.

When will the US attorney finish his investigation? Has he mentioned and end date?

As far as I know, there is no set date. His investigation continues and I wish I could say more than that.

Hours before the video was released, you charged Van Dyke with first-degree murder.

I did.

But the charge was linked, in my mind, to the release of the video.

I had made up my … I knew what we were going to do on this case weeks before that video was being released.

Weeks before the judge ordered it released?

Yes, absolutely. I met with the U.S. attorney last December. I know it has been reported as 400 days. I met with him, I can tell you the exact date: December 8 of 2014. I sat down with the head of the FBI and the United States attorney and that’s when we agreed that we were going to do a joint investigation on this case, with the FBI being our investigative agency. The plan was that the U.S. attorney would be looking at any possible federal charges. I would be looking at possible state charges. There’s been a tremendous amount of work that has been done on this case. Some of the problems [have been caused] because I’m not at liberty to discuss them because the federal investigation is ongoing. Our goal was to be able to stand up there together and announce what we both were going to do. We knew, I knew, what I was going to do. When we found out that the video was being released, I said, “I have to come out with my charges first,” even though that wasn’t what we had hoped [to do].

Why did you have to come out with your charges first?

Because I felt that it was important that the public know that something was being done on this case prior to that being released. As I said, the U.S. attorney still has not completed his end of his investigation. When you look at the amount of time, and I think we just saw it with the Ohio case [a grand jury declined to indict two Cleveland policemen in the November, 2014 shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice who was playing with a toy gun in a public park ], it took a year on that case as well.

There was an article in the Washington Post several months ago that talked about police shootings and they analyzed police shootings from 2005 to 2015. The average amount of time it takes was 260 days. Some of those investigations went on for years. I don’t feel that the amount of time that was taken in this particular investigation was too long….. You only get one shot at this. You want to make sure that you’re bringing the best case possible. In that particular Washington Post article, they had 54 officers charged within that 10 year period. Only 11 of them have been found guilty. Twenty-one of them have already been found not guilty and some of those were [cases in which there were] videos. I think when you look, it’s difficult to convict police officers. You want to make sure that it’s done correctly.

If that’s how you see it, did you compromise the McDonald case by charging when you did?

No, because at that point I felt like we had what we needed.

As you were conducting your investigation, were you asked by the U.S. attorney or by the FBI to keep that video private?

Obviously the control of that video as far as the FOIA request was with the city, not with us. Any prosecutor, I think, is going to tell you we don’t want our evidence out there prior to charging, prior to trying the case because you don’t want to taint any evidence. As in any case, you’re actually very careful because there’s a rule that governs prosecutors’ conduct… It’s very specific. We’re not supposed to be disseminating information. Those are the rules that we have to live by. 

You viewed the video shortly after the October 20 death of McDonald?

We got it in November.

You saw it?

I did see it in November when we got it, and I probably had the same feeling that most people do. It was shocking. It made you stop and say, “Wow, we have to make sure that we get this right.” It’s great having the FBI as your partner in something like this.

As calls for your resignation increased, you gave a press conference earlier in December and your tone was quite feisty and sarcastic, in no way apologetic. Is that you or were you just really revved up? It almost read like a David Mamet movie script. 

If you’ve ever seen me on trial, that’s how I do a rebuttal argument.

Heavy doses of sarcasm?

I’m a trial attorney. I’m used to being in court and responding to allegations and arguments. I came out strong because, again, I think it’s disingenuous for politicians to use this tragedy of Laquan McDonald’s death for political purposes. That’s exactly how I saw it. I thought this is outrageous and they’re piling on and I’m not going to be a part of it.

In reading about you, going back to 2009, there’s this theme that you are very friendly to policemen in the way you conduct your business in your office. The people whom I’ve talked to say, “Well, there’s an inherent conflict because the state’s attorney’s office works so closely with and depends on police.” They bring you your cases. They have to show up as witnesses. Is that just the nature of the beast or are you guilty as charged of giving the benefit of the doubt to the cop?

Obviously my assistants in the office work hand-in-hand with police officers everyday because, as you just pointed out, they’re the ones that are bringing us the cases, whether it’s CPD or whether it’s one of the 120 other municipalities that we cover. We respect the job that they do. However, the job of the state’s attorney is making sure that justice is served. I wasn’t elected just to do the easy cases. You’ve got to do the hard cases, too. … My very first supervisory role in this office was as the head of the public integrity unit. I’ve been investigating police officers since 1997.  I’m the only one of these three candidates that can say she’s actually prosecuted and convicted corrupt police officers. Since I’ve taken over, we’ve charged 77 police officers with different crimes, excessive force cases. I’m not afraid to do it.

Let me read one quote from you that I found in my research: “Our core mission is violent crime and I would never want to be in a position where I’m looking at a rape victim in the eye and say, ‘Well, ma’am, sorry. We’re not going to do anything to find the man who brutally raped you because we have now diverted all of our attention to weeding out bad police officers and fighting corruption.’” That gets at that question of this conflict between prosecuting cops and relying on them; in which your “core mission” is helping victims of violent crime and not “weeding out bad police officers.”

It is, and that’s the majority of the cases that we see. Unlike the U.S. Attorney’s office, we handle every case that comes in the door. We have to, and that’s the violent crime. We see, unfortunately, way, way too much of it. The violent crime disproportionately affects minority communities. Those are my victims. That’s our core mission, and we have to focus on that. With that being said, that doesn’t mean that we ignore the corruption. I think I have a proven record to show what we’ve done when it comes to corruption and particularly police officers who cross that line and actually commit a crime. I’m not afraid to do it. I’m going to continue to do it and I stand by what I’ve done.

What about the statistic that Van Dyke is the first Chicago cop charged in an on-duty killing in 35 years?

Right. All the more reason. I knew the significance of that, and to make sure I did the best thorough investigation possible.

Since the McDonald case blew up, Rahm Emanuel has mentioned a couple of times this code of silence that exists in the police department. Is that something that you think about, too? What about these other cops who were there that night and gave their rendition of what happened and it doesn’t jibe with the what’s on the video?

Absolutely it’s a concern. It probably is one of the things that actually plays into making these cases harder to be successful at the conclusion. As I said, we lose cases. We lost the Commander Evans case. We bring the charges and then we’re unsuccessful at trial.

Those cops are still on duty. They haven’t even been confined to a desk job.

I don’t know what their status is. Again, that’s an administrative thing. I don’t know exactly.

Will they be charged eventually by your office?

What I can say is that the federal investigation still continues. That’s probably as far as I can go.

What do you say about calls by many for a special prosecutor in the McDonald case? We may hear calls for a special prosecutor in the Quintonio LeGrier/Bettie Jones case, too. [In the U.S. House, a currently pending bill would require the appointment of an independent prosecutor in cases of a police officer who uses deadly force in the line of duty.]

I think the calls for a special prosecutor are misdirected. I think if I had sat back and done nothing on the McDonald case, then maybe I’d say there’s cause. I didn’t. I participated in a joint investigation with the US attorney and the FBI and I brought charges. I don’t see the need for a special prosecutor. I’ve assigned the case right now to two of my top trial assistants. We plan to go ahead.

[Attorney General] Loretta Lynch and the Justice Department are now embarked in a civil rights review of the CPD to ascertain if it is “engaged in a pattern or practice of violation of the Constitution or federal law.” Rahm Emanuel first said that he disagreed that there was a need for that. Then he said he “welcomed” it. What about you?

With the DOJ looking at the police department, I welcome it. I think we can all benefit from whatever recommendations or suggestions they may have to improve things. Some of the things I think that we’ve seen repeatedly in looking at these cases are the lack of Tasers, officers not having a Taser on them. Fifteen years ago we didn’t have dash cams on squad cars or the body cams. I think the digital world and technology is a step ahead of policy. I think some of the questions that we have is why there’s no audio on these [dash cams]. Again, I think that’s a question for the department to answer. We would have loved the audio, too. When you’re talking about now with the potential for more use of the body cameras, what’s the policy on that? How is that going to be stored? Are we as prosecutors going to get those upfront when we need them? There’s all kinds of things that are happening right now that I think any direction or good suggestions in policy changes are probably welcome.

The rap against Rahm, that he suppressed the video to ensure that he would be reelected …

That’s something, again, that the city would have to answer and that he would have to answer.

Chuy Garcia, the members of the black caucus of the City Council, all these people knew the video existed.  [Editor’s note: Garcia in fact denies having known about the video.] I really am puzzled why Chuy didn’t mention it during his campaign against Rahm for mayor.

It’s a good question. Why didn’t he? Now, of course, they’re attacking me, but I think that back then …

The Baltimore state’s attorney [Marilyn Mosby] prosecuting a cop in the death of Freddie Gray just got a hung jury.

 Yeah.

She charged after I think 12 days in that case. I know you’re not her partner in prosecution, but maybe she rushed a little bit. What do you think?

The hung jury is troubling. They’ll retry him, but the fact that it’s the first case [Mosby brought charges against six police officers] and it’s hung; as a prosecutor it’s cause for concern.

There was a photograph on the front page of the Tribune recently of the vigil in front of the two-flat where Bettie Jones and Quintonio LeGrier lived and died. Everybody in the photo was wearing a “Rahm Failed Us” T-shirt. After the release of the McDonald video, the focus of anger was on both of you. Now it seems to have shifted to him. What’s your relationship with Rahm?

I don’t have a close relationship with the mayor. It’s a professional relationship. It’s a working relationship. He has supported some of my pieces of legislation in the past, such as our RICO bill, which was focusing on creating a state RICO law which is going to allow us to go after the criminal enterprise, go after gangs in a different fashion. It took me three years to get that passed, but I can tell you he helped me get that passed. So I thank him and respect him for that.

You haven’t spoken to him in Cuba, then?

No, I haven’t. I didn’t even know he was in Cuba until I read it.

Will you go along with the call by Chuy and [Cook County Commissioner John] Fritchey for you to testify before the county board? Likewise, will you accede to the request by City Council to be questioned in a hearing modeled on a congressional hearing?

The City Council had some hearing which I chose not to go. Here’s the thing. Any of these commissioners [or Council members] can call me up and if they have questions I will answer them. I think it’s disingenuous of many of these politicians that they’re using this tragedy of the death of this 17-year-old boy for their political purposes. That’s what’s going on. If they want to sit down with me one-on-one, I’ll answer questions, but I don’t want to be put in a situation where they’re using this as some kind of a political circus.

On the primary coming up in March, you were [in 2008] heavily self-funded with a lot of money coming from your husband.

That was a loan which had both of our names on it. We applied for a loan and we got it. In the first race, what was clear was that once my message was out there that I had the ability to win, but the key was to be able to go up on TV with the commercials. I didn’t have the money. I was an unknown in 2008 and I wasn’t raising the money. Obviously, several of my opponents had a lot more money than me. It was a risky decision to make to get a loan to pay for those commercials, but that’s what we did. In 2012, I didn’t have an opponent in the primary, so it was a whole different race.

This time, you may have to do a lot of television advertising. How are you going to pay for it?

We’re raising the money like any other campaign is doing. It’s different now because I am the incumbent and I have a tremendous amount of supporters out there. I’m raising money and I’ll be ready.

You have some big endorsements. I know Ed Burke and Mike Madigan are in your corner. Then there are the other ones like Congressman Louis Gutierrez and [Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen] Yarborough who endorsed you, and then, after the McDonald video was released, withdrew their endorsements. How do you explain that?

I have never been a political insider. I think that’s clear. I think what occurred in the Democratic slating process with the Cook County Democrats is clear.

Why didn’t they endorse you?

Because Toni Preckwinkle is the vice-chair of that committee.

That was her influence then?

Yeah.

But she didn’t get them to endorse Kim Foxx.

No, because she didn’t have the votes to do that, so what’s the next best thing? Keep me from getting endorsed. Again, I maintain that I run this office professionally and independently so that I make the right decisions free of politics. I’m going to continue to do that. As for Congressman Gutierrez, I wish he would have called me first and let me know.

Have you spoken to him since?

I haven’t spoken to him, but I did get via an email with what he put out to the press. Interestingly enough, Congressman Gutierrez was not with me the first time around. If you remember, he endorsed Larry Suffredin. The email Gutierrez put out to the media, he said that he wanted to stand with me like he did when I first ran. Well, he wasn’t there with me when I first ran.

The task force that Rahm has appointed, do you have any opinion on that? They’re supposed to come out with a report in late March, so its [release will be] shortly after the election.

Obviously IPRA, they investigate these police cases. Our experience with them is they need more resources and hopefully they’d be able to work quicker and get investigations done more expeditiously. Maybe that task force will assist in that.

Do you have an opinion on Rahm’s firing of [police superintendent Garry] McCarthy?

The superintendent and I didn’t always agree on things. I think it’s the nature of our positions.

Do you mean you could have some hot discussions with him or arguments?

Again, I don’t know why the mayor chose to do what he did. It’s his prerogative. It’s his choice. It’s certainly not mine. I’ll always maintain a good professional working relationship with whoever the superintendent is.

Do you have any feeling about who should have that job? Is it something that you might talk to the mayor about?

I probably won’t talk to the mayor about it. It’s not my position to tell him who the superintendent is going to be.

Does it have to be an African American?

I think it should be who he has the most confidence in and who’s going to be the best person for the job. I don’t know.

One thing we haven’t talked about is mental illness. [Cook County Sheriff] Tom Dart has used the statistic that 33 percent of the inmates in the county jail are mentally ill. Quintonio LeGrier apparently had some mental-illness issues.

I have a great working relationship with Sheriff Dart. In many ways he’s right. We’ve created mental health courts that didn’t exist before. I think the other thing that is not happening in the County and, again, this isn’t my job, but it’s where do we send these people? Tom, unfortunately, he’s right. He ends up with offenders who clearly have mental illness. Are they being treated in the jail? That’s questionable. Are there county facilities to bring them to? I don’t think so. Has the county done anything to create these mental health facilities? No, they haven’t.

I read last night about this aide to Rahm Emanuel who was pummeled while attending a vigil on the West Side. Will his attackers be prosecuted?

I know him. I was actually shocked that this happened because I understand it was at a vigil. As far as I’m aware there’s no one in custody. Could they be prosecuted? Absolutely. He was battered.

I sense watching the protests—Black Friday, Christmas—that the police are behaving very gingerly. It’s almost like there’s a cloud of fear that making an arrest could trigger violence. Do you agree?

I don’t want to say that that’s what’s happening. I can imagine officers being maybe more apprehensive. I just think it’s a tough time to be a police officer.

Have you thought about resigning?

Absolutely not. I have no reason to resign. I’ve done nothing wrong. I hold my head up high. I have always run this office professionally, independently, and made decisions based on the facts, the evidence, and the law. How am I feeling now? I’m feeling fine. Despite what negative stories or what’s been transpiring the last month, I can’t tell you how many times I get stopped on the street. In fact, I won’t be able to walk from here to my car without somebody stopping and saying to me, “Do not resign. You hold your head up high. We support you.” Going to the grocery store, standing in line just to get my deli meats, people coming up to me saying, “You stand tall. You stand tall and we don’t agree with what’s happening to you.”

Whether you charge, whether you don’t charge, somebody is going to be unhappy and that’s, unfortunately, the nature of what we do. I stand tall knowing that in the 29 years that I’ve done this job I have spoken on behalf of countless victims of crime. We cannot forget our victims of crime because that’s why we do this job—for that mother who lost her only son to gang violence, for that young child who was brutally raped and murdered, for the nine year old who gets executed in the alley.

You’ve worked at the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office for almost 30 years. You’ve never worked anywhere else?

Yeah, it’s been my one legal professional job. When my then boss [State’s Attorney Richard Devine] decided not to run in 2007, I felt very strongly that I was qualified for the position. I have a passion to do this work. Going to court and speaking up on behalf of the victims of crime, that’s what I’ve been doing for 29 years. When you look around the country, the majority of people who are the elected states’ attorneys aren’t career prosecutors like myself. [But] when I decided to run, I thought, “I’m better qualified than an alderman to do this job.”

You’re the first woman in the job and the first Latino.

And the first career prosecutor.

This time your gender won’t distinguish you because you’re up against two other women. As the first woman and the first Latina, what did you bring to the office that was different from what your predecessors brought?

When I started, women were in the minority [in the office], particularly in supervisory positions. As far as Latinos in the office, I think there were five of us. I just think men and women differ when it comes to management, when it comes to organization and how we run things. I think we’re better listeners. I think we tend to collaborate in a different manner than males do. My victims are minorities. To be able to be of service to those victims, particularly in the Latino community, in the neighborhood that I grew up in [Pilsen], I take great pride in that. I’ve experienced prosecuting murders [on] streets that I used to hang out on when I was a kid.

When I interviewed Kim Foxx, she said that there was great hope that you would, because of your gender, be a different kind of state’s attorney. She said that disappointment followed because you isolated yourself and weren’t collaborative.

She’s my political opponent right now. Do I think that’s correct? Absolutely not. The women outnumber the men in my office now. We have 54 percent women. We have more women than ever before, more women in supervisory roles throughout this office. It’s not uncommon to go into a courtroom in a felony trial, at 26th and California, and see three women in a courtroom—first, second, and third chair in each courtroom. I remember being the only woman and having two male partners for most of the time when I was in the trenches, and it’s not like that now.

You were educated in Catholic schools?

Catholic grammar school, Catholic high school [Maria, since closed], Loyola University for undergrad, and then Kent for law school.

Tell me about your parents. Were they college educated?

No, not at all. I come from very simple and humble beginnings. My dad was a waiter. My mom didn’t work outside the home. My dad came here as an adult [from Mexico], my mom was born and raised here. Neither one had a high school education. My dad died when I was 12. She had to go to work in a factory sewing doctors’ uniforms. That’s how she supported us. Education was the most important thing to my mom. I’m the first in my family to get a college degree. Law school was something that I chose; something sometimes I think my mother couldn’t understand why I wanted to do it.        

Where did your interest in studying law and becoming a prosecutor come from? Did you have a mentor?

I was a social work major in college and started taking criminal justice classes as electives. I think that’s where I caught the bug for criminal justice. I still didn’t know I was going to law school. I saw myself in the criminal justice field in some fashion. I thought maybe a probation officer. I volunteered at the juvenile court when I was an undergrad and saw myself maybe in that field getting a master’s of social work. I changed my mind. It was last minute on my part. A lot of my friends were poly sci majors. They were going on to law school and encouraged me to go to law school.

Did you like law school?

No, I don’t think anybody likes law school because it’s pretty tough. For me, it was, in many ways, a culture shock. I went to Loyola and I loved it. I was involved with the Latin American student organizations, so I had my core group of friends. Then I got to law school and I remember the first week there a guy coming up to me in the cafeteria. “You must be Anita Alvarez.” I said, “Yeah.” I don’t know who he is. He said he was the lone Puerto Rican in the third-year class and he was looking out for me. It was great to have someone.

He started the Hispanic Law Students Association, so I was a part of that. There were only two Hispanics in my class and one African American. The other Hispanic woman happened to be named Alma Alvarado, so I can tell you professors would call her Ms. Alvarez and would call me Ms. Alvarado. I used to think, “There’s only two of us. How come you can’t keep us apart?” I felt like a fish out of water. I thought, “What have I done? I’m taking out loans. I don’t have much in common with my classmates here.” Many of them had parents who were lawyers and doctors and professionals. Anyway, I got through it. The turning point was my trial advocacy classes, when you learn how to put on a witness, cross examination, and I started getting compliments from my instructors. I think that’s what calmed me down. Once I started going I realized I like this. I think I’m going to like being in court. I’m going to like doing an opening statement, closing statement.

When did you get married and who’s your husband?

Jim Gomez. He’s an OB/GYNE, a sole practitioner. We got married in ‘89. We have four children [a 26-year-old, 18-year-old twins, and a 16-year-old].

You children were raised in the suburbs. Are they familiar with Pilsen?

Yeah, because I bring them back there. We go back and there are certain restaurants that I like to go to. [Her favorite is Nuevo Leon, which recently burned down.] I take them to the Mexican Fine Arts Museum, which is at Harrison Park, which is where I played baseball and went swimming and did all those fun things as a kid.

Are you still running marathons?

I ran five miles this morning. I’m not running marathons. I run outside through Oak Park. I run in the neighborhood. I don’t even know how to run on a treadmill. Even if it’s cold I’m prepared. It’s my one hour of time to myself and it’s therapeutic, even though every year I get slower. I haven’t run a marathon in 11 years, but I’ve been running half marathons.

When you graduated from law school, you had loans. You had no inherited wealth. Your starting salary at the state’s attorney’s office was $21,400. Did you consider getting a job at a law firm and making some money?

I knew I wanted to do criminal law. I found that more important and exciting than contracts. I knew I wasn’t going to be at some big law firm. I was just happy to be able to have a job and pay back my student loans. It has never been about the money for me because, if it had been, I could have left years ago and gone on in the private sector and made lots of money.

Had you lost in 2008, would you have gone back to the state’s attorney’s office?

If I had lost, I don’t know if the winner would have kept me on. I probably would have had to leave.

If you lose the primary in March, have you given thought to what you might want to do next?

I intend to win in March. If I don’t, I will have to move on and get another job.

Carol Felsenthal is a lifelong Chicagoan and self-proclaimed political junkie. She writes occasionally for Politico Magazine and The Hill. Her books include biographies of Bill Clinton, Katharine Graham, and Alice Roosevelt Longworth. Among her many stories for Chicago are memorable profiles of Michelle Obama and Bruce Rauner. Follow her on Twitter at @csfelsenthal.

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