State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez boycotted the event, and challenger Donna More told Democratic Party leaders she didn’t want their support — so it was no surprise Thursday when the Cook County Democratic Party threw its influential weight behind challenger Kim Foxx.
It was a blow to Alvarez and an important victory for Foxx in the contentious state’s attorney’s race, but the incumbent and More both downplayed the party’s decision to end its neutrality and back Foxx.
Alvarez said she knew she wouldn’t get the support because Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle wants a prosecutor she can control. And More, a former state and federal prosecutor, took it a step further — also blasting Preckwinkle but showing up to essentially thumb her nose at the township committeemen.
“I’m not here today seeking your political endorsement,” More said in her remarks at party headquarters. “Politics has already done enough to damage our criminal justice system.”
Indignant snorts and half-stifled chuckles — but no audible applause — greeted More after she’d finished speaking.
The party leaders met for about 25 minutes behind a frosted glass door before coming out and announcing their decision to back Foxx, a former top aide to Preckwinkle, who is also a vice chairman of the county party organization.
South Side Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), the Democratic ward committeeman who also serves as chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, said he’s hopeful Cook County Democrats will unite behind Foxx and that there will be no ward organizations free-lancing for Alvarez.
But Sawyer was concerned enough about that possibility — by powerful ward bosses John Daley (11th), Edward Burke (14th), Richard Mell (33rd) and possibly Mike Madigan (13th) — to demand party “discipline.”
“We have been asked as African-Americans to support a lot of candidates that we weren’t necessarily elated about. But we did it because we were members of the party and we followed the party line. Now I’m asking those that may not be elated with Kim Foxx to do the same,” Sawyer said.
“Kim Foxx is now part of the Democratic Party slate. We should all — 50 [city ward] committeemen, 30 [suburban] township committeemen, all 80 of us — should be going forward supporting Kim Foxx 100 percent. . . . Those that violate it should not be getting party support. Bottom line.”
Cook County Democratic Party Chairman Joe Berrios said 85 percent of the ward bosses in attendance at Thursday’s executive committee meeting were in “full support” of Foxx. That doesn’t mean there won’t be some free-lancing by a handful of ward organizations. That’s been going “for years” and will continue, the chairman said.
“There have been committeemen on both sides of the fence who have supported and not supported certain candidates. You can never get 100 percent. But if I can get 85 percent, I’m very happy with it,” Berrios said.
What about Daley, Burke and Mell and Madigan?
“I will talk to them. I don’t think we need to threaten anyone. . . . Threatening people doesn’t help anything. . . . They’re elected by the people. What do you do — kick `em out of office?” Berrios said.
Party leaders had previously not endorsed a state’s attorney candidate.
The change comes after Alvarez has faced blistering criticism for the time it took her office to charge Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald. Van Dyke shot 17-year-old McDonald 16 times in October 2014, but Van Dyke was charged with murder only in November 2015. Alvarez has insisted that investigating and prosecuting police misconduct is time-consuming and something that is critical to get right, while critics have questioned her commitment to holding cops accountable for wrongdoing.
After the party endorsement, Foxx said: “I’m very humbled by it. I’m a lifelong Democrat. We are in really trying times as a county. So for the party to come out and support me in this race — given what’s happening — it means a lot.”
Foxx is the former chief of staff to Preckwinkle, who has pushed her candidacy and worked behind the scenes to secure her the party endorsement.
More said the party’s decision “is the best thing that can happen to my campaign. I was resonating with the voters, not the powerbrokers, and this just proves my point that this is nothing more than a power grab by Toni Preckwinkle.”
Preckwinkle scoffed at More’s suggestion that Foxx is a hand-picked insider.
“You have to remember that Donna More spent the last 25 years serving the gaming industry. She hasn’t been a prosecutor for 25 years. . . . And she’s critical of Kim Foxx’s experience?”
Alvarez, meanwhile, held her own campaign event downtown. Surrounded by crime victims’ families who sang her praises, Alvarez said she didn’t appear at Thursday’s slating because she knew what the result would be.
“It’s clear to everyone that Ms. Foxx was put in this race by the Cook County Board president,” Alvarez said. “The voters of Cook County need to ask themselves: Are you going to have a state’s attorney who is going to be totally independent or are you going to have a state’s attorney who is going to take orders from the president of the County Board?”
Contributing: Fran Spielman