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Foxx unseats Alvarez as state’s attorney

Kim Foxx took an early commanding lead in the race for Cook County state's attorney| AP file photo

Amid outrage over the response to the Laquan McDonald shooting and other cases involving police, Cook County voters ousted two-term state’s attorney Anita Alvarez on Tuesday.

With 95 percent of precincts reporting, former prosecutor Kim Foxx had won 58 percent of the votes in the Democratic primary after campaigning on a promise to restore trust in the criminal justice system, which she said had been broken by Alvarez.

“The stakes in this race were very high,” Foxx told cheering supporters at a downtown Holiday Inn. “This race is not so much just about saying goodbye — it’s about turning the page.”

Alvarez, who trailed with 29 percent, conceded around 8:45 p.m. Donna More, also a former prosecutor, was third with 13 percent.

Foxx, who served as chief of staff to County Board President Toni Preckwinkle before joining the race, won with sizable margins in both the city and suburbs, returns show.

With shootings and killings spiking in Chicago, Alvarez campaigned on her 29 years as a prosecutor, saying she was best suited to go after criminals and stand up for their victims.

Alvarez also attacked the ethics and preparedness of her rivals. She accused Foxx of lying about the number of cases Foxx tried during 12 years as an assistant state’s attorney and ripped More for taking on gambling firms as clients.

It wasn’t enough.

For several years Preckwinkle, Black Lives Matter activists and other critics accused Alvarez of resisting reforms to her office that would keep more low-level offenders out of jail. Alvarez said she was a leader in creating alternatives to locking people up.

But in November, a judge ordered the release of the police dashcam video showing Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting McDonald 16 times in October 2014. Alvarez charged Van Dyke with murder just hours before the video was released – and more than a year after the incident occurred.

Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez makes a concession speech at the Palmer House Hilton after she lost in the Democratic primary to candidate Kim Foxx on Tuesday, March 15, 2016. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez makes a concession speech at the Palmer House Hilton after she lost in the Democratic primary to candidate Kim Foxx on Tuesday, March 15, 2016. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Foxx and More blasted Alvarez for not bringing charges sooner. Foxx even used a segment of the McDonald video – showing the 17-year-old walking down the street just before he was shot – in a campaign ad.

“Clearly, the policing strategy in the county has failed,” said Keith Kelleher, president of SEIU Healthcare of Illinois and Indiana, said at Foxx’s victory party Tuesday night. The union provided volunteers and donated more than $134,000 to her campaign.

“Kim is a breath of fresh air because her background is in restorative justice, not locking people up,” Kelleher said.

In addition to spurring a debate over the justice system, the race divided the Cook County Democratic Party. While Preckwinkle steered the party’s endorsement to Foxx, a number of white and Hispanic elected officials stuck with Alvarez and a couple North Siders went with More.

The campaign was also expensive. Altogether, the candidates raised more than $5.5 million, state records show.

On Election Night, though, voters moved decisively in favor of Foxx. “We have been encouraged by the turnout we saw across Cook County,” said Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Larry Rogers, Jr., a Foxx supporter. He said it reflected “recent events that have incensed certain segments of the population.”

At Alvarez’s election night headquarters, the mood was subdued by 8:40 pm. The large Empire Room at the Palmer House was half filled.

At 9:15 p.m., Alvarez came down to address her supporters.

“I know I have been criticized that I wasn’t a very good politician, and that is probably right,” she said. “But I am very damn proud of the fact that I am a good prosecutor.”

She vowed to serve her remaining months “with professionalism and integrity.”

Foxx is now set to face Republican Christopher E.K. Pfannkuche, who served as a Cook County prosecutor for 31 years, in the November general election.