IfState’s Attorney Anita Alvarez loses her Hispanic political base — along with black voters enraged by her handling of the Laquan McDonald case — what are her chances of surviving a contested Democratic primary against two challengers, one of whom is African-American?
It looks like the embattled two-term prosecutor may be forced to answer that question in her fight for political survival.
On Monday, vanquished mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and six of the City Council’s 10 Hispanic aldermen demanded that Alvarez resign for taking 13 months to charge a white Chicago Police officer with the first-degree murder of the African-American teenager.
“As we seek now to heal our city and our county, and as we as a society seek to enact long-overdue reforms of our criminal justice system, we need law enforcement officials who are honest, fair, and professional,” Garcia said.
“Too much is at stake to allow Anita Alvarez to continue in the position of Cook County state’s attorney, and accordingly, we call on her today to resign immediately.”
Joining Garcia at the news conference were four aldermen: Susie Salowski Garza (10th), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), Gilbert Villegas (36th) and Ricardo Muñoz (22nd). Two other Hispanic aldermen — Roberto Maldonado (26th) and Proco Joe Moreno (1st) — also joined the call for Alvarez’s resignation, but did not attend.
“Ms. Alvarez’s record as the county’s chief prosecutor has been replete with actions that show a disdain for restorative justice and a petty vindictiveness wholly inappropriate for her office.”
Alvarez’s office later issued a written response to the latest demand for her to leave:
“I am a professional prosecutor and I am not driven by politics. I offer no apologies for enlisting the FBI to investigate Laquan’s murder because obviously the Chicago Police Department could not investigate themselves in this case. And I certainly do not apologize for conducting a meticulous and thorough investigation to build the strongest possible First Degree Murder case against Officer Van Dyke.”
Earlier Monday, Munoz said the decision to ask Alvarez to quit “transcends ethnicity.”
“We would be calling for the resignation of any state’s attorney who takes over 400 days to indict an individual who obviously committed murder,” said Munoz, Garcia’s political protégé, referring to the incendiary video of Officer Jason Van Dyke firing 16 shots into McDonald’s body while the teenager appeared to be walking away from Van Dyke and his partner in October, 2014.
“This issue is not about ethnicity. It’s about justice. People are looking at this and seeing that it was a miscarriage of justice that she took so long to bring the charges. How long does it take to investigate something that’s on tape?”
The City Council’s Black Caucus and African-American community leaders led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. have already issued a similar demand in an apparent attempt to boost the candidacy of Kim Foxx, the African-American former chief-of-staff to County Board President Toni Preckwinkle now challenging Alvarez in the March primary.
If Hispanic politicians join them in abandoning Alvarez, the incumbent prosecutor’s days are probably numbered.
Garcia is Preckwinkle’s floor leader. His demand for Alvarez resignation can only help Preckwinkle’s handpicked candidate Kim Foxx.
The only saving grace for Alvarez is the fact that the City Council’s Hispanic Caucus is divided on the issue.
“Asking for her resignation is not going to solve the problems that need to be fixed. That’s for the voters to decide,” said Ald. George Cardenas (12th), chairman of the Hispanic Caucus.
“What we need to focus on is reforming the system and working on things that should be worked on. There’s a backload of these cases that need thorough review. The criminal system is not working for the common man.”
Instead of focusing on Alvarez, the Hispanic Caucus is calling for City Council hearings on police general orders governing the use of deadly force. They want to review training and disciplinary procedures.
They’re demanding more extensive City Council briefings — including the playing of dashboard camera or body cam videos behind the scenes—before Council approval of police abuse settlements like the $5 million paid to the McDonald family before a lawsuit was even filed. They’re further demanding that the cost of police settlements be charged against the Chicago Police Department’s budget.
“We need to take it inside the body where decisions are made. Not overreact [by boycotting stores] on Michigan Avenue because that does the city a disservice. It says we’re incapable of reform and handling it ourselves. People outside the city who come here to shop have nothing to do with this. To be prevented from doing that? What does that accomplish? It makes the city look bad. It’s the wrong approach.”
Pressed on whether Alvarez still enjoys his support, Cardenas said, “I am reserving my judgment until I have all the facts. Not knowing all the facts, I have no reason not to.”
Rookie Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) said he, too, is not prepared to join the call for Alvarez to step down.
“Resignation is not enough. If the system is broken, it doesn’t matter who’s on top. We need to focus on the fundamental changes we need to make within the department and address some of the issues that brought us to the situation we find ourselves in today,” he said, noting that voters “will decide her fate in six months.”
Ald. Danny Solis (25th), a former chairman of the Hispanic Caucus, said he is endorsing Alvarez for re-election and focusing, instead, on the City Council hearings.
“I just don’t understand what she has done wrong. If there’s a system that allows her to operate this way, I want to deal with the system. What are the general orders? What took the state’s attorney so long to file charges? What is the FOP’s role? What about IPRA?” Solis said.
“We could replace the [police] superintendent and the state’s attorney. But, if we get a new state’s attorney and the system is still there, what’s the use? Individuals get shot. A long time passes before police officers get indicted. Settlements are made in the City Council. Council members are not privy to a lot of the information the corporation counsel has before he makes his recommendation.”
The fourth member of the Hispanic caucus still in Alvarez’s corner is Ald. Ariel E. Reboyras (30th), chairman of the council’s Committee on Public Safety.
Last week, Alvarez spokeswoman Sally Daly had explained the thirteen-month delay by arguing that said police-involved shootings trigger “long, meticulous and thorough” investigations that typically take anywhere from 10 to 20 months to complete.
“We’ve had an ongoing investigation with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office since very shortly after the shooting occurred. We’ve been working diligently with our federal partners on the complex investigation. It was our intention to announce the decision to bring the charges with the U.S. Attorney’s office. But, that was not possible. Their investigation is still going on,” Daly said then.
“The court’s decision to release this video has changed the timing of this announcement but it did not dictate the decision to bring charges. With the video going public, the state’s attorney felt it was in the interest of public safety to make this announcement.”
Alvarez and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy have so far borne the brunt of the outrage over the McDonald video with demands for both of their resignations.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has also been under fire for keeping the video under wraps until after the April 7 mayoral runoff and waiting until one week after the election to settle the case for $5 million even before the McDonald family had filed a lawsuit. The video was released, only after a judge ordered the city to do so. Only then did Emanuel drop the city’s appeal.
The mayor and McCarthy have also been criticized for allowing Van Dyke to be stripped of his police powers, but remain on the city payroll for 13 months. He was placed on no-pay status, only after Alvarez charged Van Dyke with first-degree murder.
“We’ve all seen the video at this point, we know the horrendous murder it depicts,” said rookie Ald. Ramirez-Rosa had said at Monday’s news conference. “Anita Alvarez had that footage. She failed to act swiftly in the name of justice.”
Garcia likewise called Alvarez’s actions as a “miscarriage of justice,” focusing on the delayed indictment of Van Dyke. The surrounding controversy has fueled speculation that the case’s handling has been part of a concerted effort to protect city and county employees and officials — including Alvarez.
“It’s clear to me that there’s been a cover-up, that perhaps there was thinking that somehow this thing would go away, and that the video would never see the light of day,” Garcia said. “If that was the assumption, it was a miscalculation. It is clear that there has been a travesty of justice. The indictment, the charges that were brought about, should have occurred at least a year ago.”