If there’s anyone who is surprised that the Cook County Democratic Party, after previously declining to endorse in the state’s attorney’s race, changed its mind and endorsed Kim Foxx this morning, that person knows little about county politics or the county board’s president, Toni Preckwinkle. Preckwinkle has changed from an alderman with a reformist’s reputation to a clout-heavy, aggressive queenmaker.
The opponents in this increasingly bitter fight are two-term incumbent Anita Alvarez, highly criticized for the 400-day delay in indicting Jason Van Dyke after the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald; former prosecutor and now law firm partner Donna More; and the aforementioned Foxx, a close associate and acolyte of Preckwinkle’s, and, until recently, Preckwinkle’s chief of staff.
I was able to reach both Foxx and More by phone shortly after the assembled leaders—80 Chicago ward and suburban township Democratic committeemen—voted behind closed doors to endorse Foxx in the March 15 Democratic primary. This being Cook County, that primary will almost certainly determine who becomes the County’s chief prosecutor. (I’ve asked Alvarez for an interview, and I’ll add her comments if and when I have them.)
More sounded energetic and angry. She told me that she had no doubt walking into the 134 N. LaSalle conference room this morning that the committeemen would do Preckwinkle’s bidding. Alvarez had declined to attend, but More said she came to tell the assembled that she didn’t want their endorsement and that they should “think very hard and ask some tough questions before they endorse. Politics had already done enough damage to the criminal justice system in Cook County.”
And what was their response? “Most of the people in the room were looking the floor.”
She repeated what has become a core part both the More and Alvarez campaigns: “Kim’s candidacy wouldn’t have happened without Toni. Toni wants control of the office; she wants control of the power of indictment.”
“The Democratic endorsement,” More said, “isn’t what it was 20 years ago. The committeemen’s decision to reverse themselves will help my campaign. Voters are sick and tired of politics as usual. [The endorsement] will prove what I’ve been saying all along. Voters don’t much care who the party power brokers endorse.”
More dismissed the growing list of Foxx’s endorsers—see below—by charging that people endorsing her are all “beholden to Toni. What got traded for the endorsements?” She claims that her recent warning to go after “public corruption” was the reason today’s “Toni-engineered” session was called. “Last Saturday I said I was going after public corruption. Twenty-four hours later, they called this meeting.”
I asked More whether there has been pressure on her to drop out and make it a two-woman race between the first Latino and first woman to hold the office (Alvarez) and potentially the first African-American woman (Foxx). “If there is, I don’t know about it. … I’m staying in until the bitter end.”
An elated-sounding Kim Foxx told me that the endorsement “will give me the resources”—that is, money—“to reach more voters, to get my message into lots of households.”
I asked her about the charge that she’d be Toni’s puppet. Foxx answered that she was “grateful to have the support of the president, glad she allowed me to work on criminal justice issues when I was on her staff.”
Foxx presented herself as the right person at the right time for the job because of her background growing up at Cabrini-Green, struggling with poverty and homelessness. She described her reason for running as having “for the first time a candidate who comes from the community ravaged by violence.” She told me that in her pitch to the commissioners she described this as a “transformative moment for the county.”
Foxx’s endorsers include Jan Schakowsky, Danny Davis, Abner Mikva, Kurt Summers, Leslie Hairston, Roderick Sawyer, Michelle Harris, Kwame Raoul, Will Guzzardi, Carol Moseley Braun, Daniel Biss, and of course Toni Preckwinkle.
The race for state’s attorney is one to watch, and I, for one, can’t wait for promised debates. So far there are tentative plans by WLS/League of Women Voters, WBEZ, and WTTW to sponsor what promise to be, to put it politely, lively exchanges.
Update After this story posted I spoke with Anita Alvarez, and I asked her why she did not attend the endorsement session. “We all knew what the result was going to be. Now more than ever the public needs to know that this office must be independent and the person who runs it must be independent. I went and presented my credentials last August. Going today wouldn’t have changed anything.”
She insists she will not be hurt by the endorsement of Kim Foxx. “The most important endorsement is that of the citizens of Cook County … The victims and survivors of crime [mean] more to me than politicians. I’ve never been the political insider.”
I also asked about the latest court-ordered video release of a fatal shooting of an African-American by a white Chicago police officer, that of 17-year-old Cedrick Chatman in January 2013. The dark object Chatman had pointed at police turned out to be an iPhone box. Alvarez told me that she would be issuing a formal statement later today, saying only that “the case is from [January] 2013, and we declined to press charges.”