Endorsement: Pat O'Brien for Cook County state's attorney

  • Kim Foxx, left, and Patrick O'Brien,  right, are candidates for Cook county State's Attorney  in the 2020 election.

    Kim Foxx, left, and Patrick O'Brien, right, are candidates for Cook county State's Attorney in the 2020 election.

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 9/25/2020 5:57 PM

It is tempting to view the race for Cook County state's attorney as a choice between criminal justice reform and safe streets.

None of us should give in to the notion. It is possible to have both and we should insist on it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

We have reservations about both candidates in this election; neither is perfect.

But we believe Republican Patrick W. "Pat" O'Brien of Chicago offers the best hope to provide justice that is fair to both crime victims and the accused.

Incumbent Kim Foxx of Flossmoor is doing her best to portray him as a Trumpian reactionary, but that is far from the case. O'Brien is an apolitical former judge, former assistant state's attorney, former assistant attorney general, and criminal defense attorney.

That broad array of experience in legal affairs is far more extensive, and provides him with the benefit of a far greater variation of perspectives on the process, than Foxx's resume brings her.

O'Brien promises to prioritize prosecution of violent crime, to target gangs, guns and drugs. He vows also to keep politics and political agendas out of the office, to oversee an office run with integrity and focused on justice as its single mission.

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That is a tall order, given a year of unprecedented civil unrest over clear inequities in the social order and law enforcement, and given a tragic surge in the county's violent crime.

Both need to be addressed. We're confident in O'Brien's commitment to professional standards and energetic pursuit of just prosecutions.

We hail his call for mandatory treatment of drug offenders, aiming to rebuild lives rather than ignoring human and family tragedies that now go simply unprosecuted.

But we're less confident of his commitment to proactive reforms. He recognizes the system's fallibilities, but we aren't certain that he appreciates how overtly they must be challenged if they are to be addressed. If elected, he must embrace this injustice.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Since her election four years ago, State's Attorney Foxx admirably has instituted important moves toward criminal justice reform and that has been important work.

But there is a gap in Foxx's view of her obligations. "I was elected to enact criminal justice reform," she says.

No, she was not.

She was elected to seek and provide justice.

Criminal justice reform is an important part of that mission, but it is only a part of it. Protecting the victims and potential victims of crime is an essential second element.

Foxx talks a lot about all the people she has freed from jail -- and in most cases, justifiably -- but she talks so much less about the ones she has put there, a necessary part of any prosecutor's obligation to the public.

On her website, and in her response to our questionnaire, the problems posed by gangs are not mentioned once. Not once.

She has for the most part failed to help get illegal guns off our streets.

She cavalierly attributes this year's rise in violent crime to the COVID-19 pandemic, but when asked, fails to explain how the pandemic has fired a single shot or committed a single murder.

The bond reforms she supports have failed to include the proper safeguards. In many cases, they have put felony suspects back on the streets.

And her office seems inclined to decline or dismiss prosecutions as a first instinct.

Which brings us, of course, to Jussie Smollett. There's just no good explanation for the decision by Foxx's office to allow the actor to walk away from charges that he lied to Chicago police about an apparently staged mugging.

One moment, her office was filing charges against him. The next moment, Foxx was taking a phone call on his behalf. The next moment, charges were dropped without so much as an apology required in exchange for the favor.

Foxx wants us all to believe that her only lapse was one of transparency, but a review by special prosecutor Dan Webb concluded in August that there were "operational failures" that went far beyond that.

The Smollett case, O'Brien says, is what prompted him to run.

"Foxx," he said, "has lost the confidence of the community, harmed the reputation of the office and its assistants and made the county less safe by her actions."

Unfortunately, we agree with that comment, and that makes it impossible to side in this race with the incumbent.

We endorse Pat O'Brien.

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