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Lies, cover-ups, Republicans: Jabs fly in state’s attorney debate

Democratic candidates for Cook County State's Attorney, from left, Kim Foxx, Anita Alvarez and Donna More participate in a debate Thursday evening. | WTTW

The two Democratic challengers to Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez accused the incumbent Thursday of participating in a “cover up” and making the area’s criminal justice system a national “laughingstock.”

Alvarez fired back that Kim Foxx is a “proven liar” and Donna More is a Republican.

And amid the blasts, the three Democratic candidates running for Cook County state’s attorney in Tuesday’s primary offered sharply contrasting views of how the Laquan McDonald case was handled – which has become the key issue in the race to be the area’s top prosecutor.

For much of the campaign, Alvarez, a two-term incumbent, has been on the defensive about how she handled the October 2014 shooting of McDonald by Officer Jason Van Dyke. Alvarez waited more than a year before charging Van Dyke with first-degree murder, and that was just hours before the court-ordered release of a police video of the incident.

During a Thursday debate on WTTW – the last face off of the three candidates before Tuesday’s primary – Alvarez reiterated that cases involving police officers are “complex.” She said her office was held up by federal officials, whom she asked to help examine the shooting. “I stand by that decision,” she said.

But Foxx and More said Alvarez only charged Van Dyke when it was clear the release of the video would cause public outrage.

“She did it because there was going to be political fallout,” Foxx said.

“No one in this county believes charges would have been filed” otherwise, said More.

Alvarez responded by challenging the experience and integrity of her foes, as she’s done throughout the campaign.

For starters, she said, they know little about the McDonald case or others involving police. She also accused them both of ethical lapses.

Alvarez said Foxx had exaggerated her trial experience in campaign literature and media interviews, and noted Foxx’s campaign had been fined by state election officials for failing to disclose a poll paid for by county board President Toni Preckwinkle’s political committee.

Foxx served as Preckwinkle’s chief of staff before running for state’s attorney. Foxx said her campaign is appealing the fine.

Trying to steer the conversation back to Alvarez’s record, Foxx said the incumbent had improperly used her office to spread false information about Foxx’s 12-year tenure as a prosecutor. The number of cases Foxx has tried “is not the issue here,” Foxx said. “The issue is judgment.”

“The issue is truthfulness,” Alvarez shot back. “I’m not a proven liar.”

The incumbent also traded barbs with More, a former county and federal prosecutor who served as a state gaming regulator before representing casino companies in private practice. To make matters worse, Alvarez said, More has made past donations to GOP candidates, questioning why she was running in a Democratic primary.

“I’m still trying to figure out why you’re in this race,” Alvarez said. “You’re a Republican.”

While touting her broad experience, More said she’s been a Democrat since volunteering for the 1972 presidential campaign of George McGovern when she was in high school.

More said Alvarez had no right to challenge her integrity, given the pace of the McDonald shooting investigation. “You’re involved in a cover up.”

But Alvarez repeatedly argued that she’s the only candidate who’s truly free of political influence and special interests, with 29 years of experience in the state’s attorney’s office to prove it. “The voters of Cook County need an independent prosecutor,” she said – and not someone who’s “a pawn for a political boss,” as she alleged Foxx is for Preckwinkle.

Foxx, of course, had a different take on the race: “Anita Alvarez is a two-term incumbent who has caused our criminal justice system to be the laughingstock of the country.”

The attacks are likely to continue through the last days of the race, as money continues to pour into their campaign funds.

In the last week, Foxx has reported more than $422,000 in campaign donations, including $200,000 from business owner Fred Eychaner, a prolific Democratic Party donor. He has now given Foxx a total of $600,000. She received another $50,000 in the last week from a campaign fund of former Gov. Pat Quinn, who endorsed her last month.

Alvarez has reported $143,500 in contributions over the same period, including $20,000 from the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters. The union has donated more than $122,000 to Alvarez since the beginning of 2015.

For her part, More took in $28,500 in the last week, the vast majority of it — $20,000 – donated by herself or members of her family. All told, More and her family have chipped in more than $623,000 to her campaign.

Altogether, the three candidates have received nearly $5.3 million in contributions since January 2015.