Preckwinkle questions Alvarez on jail policy

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Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle appeared with Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez at this 2011 news conference, but the two officials don’t always see eye to eye. | Sun-Times file photo

Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez touts her humble Pilsen roots in a recent campaign video and has pointed out that she expects to be the only Latina on the March primary ticket.

On Thursday, another high-powered Cook County official questioned why Alvarez — who is running for her third term — hasn’t done more for her own people.

Speaking with the Better Government Association’s Andy Shaw downtown, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle criticized Alvarez for not being on board with efforts to reduce the number of non-violent offenders housed in the Cook County jail.

“It’s particularly ironic since she’s a Latina woman, and our jail is filled with black and brown people,” Preckwinkle said.

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Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is backing her former chief of staff for Cook County State’s Attorney. | Provided photo

Preckwinkle, who has long shared a frosty relationship with Alvarez and isn’t backing her in the primary, was asked if the county’s top prosecutor failed to get “the memo on how to reform the system.”

“I have no idea,” Preckwinkle said. “All I can tell you is the result, which is somebody who is not prepared to work with us on criminal justice reform.”

Shaw asked Preckwinkle: “You don’t think a lot of her as a law enforcement professional?”

“No,” Preckwinkle said in a quiet voice.

“Toni Preckwinkle is simply wrong when she makes such comments, which are clearly politically motivated,” said Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for Alvarez. “The facts are clear: Anita Alvarez is a national leader on criminal justice reform and she has ushered in some of the most innovative reforms in the history of Cook County while maintaining a sharp focus on the prosecution of violent crime.”

“State’s Attorney Alvarez is very sensitive to the demographic makeup of offenders in the criminal justice system, but she also recognizes that the victims of violent crime in Cook County are disproportionately minorities.”

Daly said Alvarez has created two dozen new alternative sentencing and diversion programs for non-violent offenders.

Preckwinkle has been critical of a criminal justice system that she says disproportionally impacts minorities, and she’s been vocal about the need to keep those accused of petty crimes out of jail while they await trial.

Preckwinkle is backing Kim Foxx, her former chief of staff and a prosecutor, for state’s attorney.

Alvarez, besides taking pride in her roots, pitches herself as a prosecutor concerned about justice for victims, not tallying up convictions. And she also casts herself as a reformer whose policy of not prosecuting lower-level drug offenses is “One of the most innovative and one of the most far-reaching in the country.”

Alvarez wasn’t the only politician who came under fire during Thursday’s sit-down.

Shaw asked for Preckwinkle’s opinion on how Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration is doing.

“It’s hard to understand why somebody would choose to be governor and then not govern,” Preckwinkle said.

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