Laura Washington: Alvarez unapologetic — but has a tin ear

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Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez (right) and her opponents in the March 15 Democratic primary election, Kim Foxx (left) and Donna More, debate before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board, Friday, Feb. 5, 2016. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Follow @MediaDervishWhen I arrived, they were blocking the door at Maggiano’s on West Grand Avenue. Shouts of 16 shots! pierced the morning chill. Bulky cops were stoically, gingerly edging the screaming protestors away.Just another morning, another breakfast, another day in the life of Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.She stepped to the podium Wednesday to greet the City Club of Chicago over eggs scrambled and crepes raspberry. Sorry I was a little late, it was a little hard getting in the front door here, she said. Chuckles rippled through the 300-plus diners.OPINION Follow @MediaDervish

“You know, I see the same group of people, and I’ve gotten to know them, so as a mother I hope maybe we can give them some to-go bags to make sure that they eat today.”

That condescending little “joke” fell flat.

It exhibited the tin ear that has made her so vulnerable.

But she went on to deliver a passionate, unapologetic pitch for her record as a veteran prosecutor and crime fighter.

Her office prosecutes 35,000 felony cases a year, Alvarez said. She diversified an agency once captive to the old boys; pushed for community and legislative initiatives to reduce violence.

Three months ago, voters were not listening. Alvarez was buried in the fresh, hot furor over her long-delayed prosecution of Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke for shooting 17-year old Laquan McDonald, 16 times, in October 2014.

Protestors took the streets and national headlines with incessant demands that she resign.

Her opponents in the March 15 Democratic Primary question her judgement. She goes easy on the police at the expense of their victims, they claim.

So Alvarez, an avid runner, is running hard for her political life.

She may be gaining ground. In early February, a Chicago Tribune poll gave the incumbent a 34 percent lead in the three-person race.

Democratic registered voters supported her challengers, Kim Foxx and Donna More, with 27 percent and 12 percent respectively; 26 percent were undecided.

Why? Alvarez is a well-known, two-time incumbent. She is raising cash, big-time. For weeks, her campaign has been airing well-crafted, compelling commercials showing her jogging through city streets to fight crime.

Those fiery young protesters will continue to hound her wherever she goes.

But I wonder, are others still steamed? What about the county’s working and middle classes, those in the suburbs, who may feel immune to the horrendous street crime that plagues Chicago’s South and West sides?

Are they thinking, yes, maybe Alvarez could have done more, and sooner, for McDonald. But the officer will stand trial. There are multiple investigations under way, reforms are coming.

I wonder, have voters seen that terrible McDonald video too many times? Has it taken on the aura of a TV crime show? It is even being used in a Foxx campaign ad. Have we become inured to the tragedy?

I wonder, if voters are wondering about their own, real-life concerns: Illinois is mired in an historic financial crisis. Will I lose my pension? Are pink slips on the way? Can I afford the kid’s college tuition? How will I pay for grandma’s medicine, cover the utility bills?

“If my unofficial jogging poll is accurate, I really like my chances in this race,” she told the crowd. That’s because the final decision is not going to be in the hands of politicians or party bosses.”

Yes, it rests with the voters. We will see how much they care about the Laquan McDonalds of Chicago.

Email: lauraswashington@aol.com

Follow Laura Washington on Twitter: Follow @MediaDervish

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