Cook County state's attorney challengers focus on Laquan McDonald case
The two Democratic challengers looking to unseat Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez both say the county's criminal justice system is broken, though Kim Foxx and Donna More disagree on how to fix it and who's best suited for the job.
Alvarez, who is seeking a third term, has been scrutinized over her handling of the October 2014 shooting of black teen Laquan McDonald by white Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke.
Alvarez, a River Forest Democrat, filed first-degree murder charges more than a year after the shooting and just before the court-ordered release of a police video showing the 17-year-old being shot 16 times.
Alvarez describes the investigation as "meticulous and thorough," and says neither opponent has the experience for such cases. But both opponents say it should have been handled more efficiently and transparently.
Foxx, a 43-year-old former prosecutor and chief of staff to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, says the state's attorney's office has had a decadeslong history of disregarding corruption as a result of a close relationship with Chicago police. She calls the length of time it took to charge Van Dyke "only the latest failure to protect victims and execute justice in a timely and efficient manner."
Foxx says fixing the office isn't as simple as electing a new state's attorney "without really delving into the culture and really putting mechanisms in place to make sure that we're operating at the highest standards."
Foxx says she's the only candidate who can fix a broken system. She highlights her work with the county public guardian's office and in Preckwinkle's office to reduce the county jail population and address racial disparities in both the criminal and juvenile justice systems.
Foxx supports using special prosecutors, particularly the state's appellate prosecutor, to handle cases in which police are charged with crimes. "The state's attorney cannot fulfill her official responsibilities to prosecute law enforcement the same as any civilian defendant because of the nature of her dependent relationship with local law enforcement," Foxx says.
More, a 57-year-old lawyer whose resume includes work as a former assistant state's attorney and federal prosecutor, as well as an attorney for the Illinois Gaming Board, has portrayed herself as the only candidate free of political influence. She suggests Foxx's close relationship with Preckwinkle could interfere with the independence of the state's attorney's office, an idea Foxx calls "insulting."
More says some changes in the office must be structural and some must come through changes in personnel.
To help ward against police misconduct, she says, officers must know the state's attorney is prepared to use the grand jury to indict in more cases than it has in the past.
"Police officers have to know that if we have a bad apple they're going to be indicted," More said.
Instead of using a special prosecutor, More says she would have police misconduct cases handled by a select group of felony assistants who work solely on those types of cases, alongside experts in case law surrounding police officers' use of force.
While both candidates have called for an ethics officer, More says the mindset inside the office has to change, with more attorneys asking tough questions of official police reports.
"We don't have direct control over the police department but we do have the ability to make it known who the bad and good apples are," she said.
More has come under fire for contributions to Gov. Bruce Rauner and former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, both Republicans.
She calls herself a "progressive Democrat" and an "independent thinker" but now says she regrets the Rauner donation.
Foxx has the backing of the Cook County Democratic Party, an endorsement Preckwinkle worked to secure last month. She's backed by a long list of current and former Democratic officials, including U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Evanston, state Sen. Don Harmon of Oak Park, Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough, state Rep. Elaine Nekritz of Northbrook and state Sen. Daniel Biss of Evanston.
More has listed Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey, several Chicago aldermen and former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's defense attorney Sam Adam Jr. as supporters.
The primary is March 15.