Mitchell: Newcomer Kim Foxx rides wave of discontent

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Kim Foxx campaigning at 95th & The Dan Ryan. Tuesday, March 15, 2016. | Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

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Eight years ago, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, who had proclaimed herself an underdog, coasted to an easy victory as the first woman and first Hispanic to become the county’s top prosecutor.But although Kim Foxx beat the two-term incumbent Alvarez Tuesday night, Foxx was the real underdog going into this race.

Although Foxx had the support of the powerful Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, she was a political novice going up against what was by then a seasoned politician. Foxx’s huge lead over someone who was once considered a rising star in the Democratic Party shows how fed up voters are with the criminal justice system.

Alvarez is the first to feel the full power of that wrath.

Until late in the game, few people gave Foxx a chance to rack up double digits against an incumbent.

But the mid-level prosecutor rode a wave of discontent, particularly in the African-American community, over how Alvarez’s office handled the Laquan McDonald police-involved shooting case, and other complaints involving law enforcement officials accused of using excessive force.

OPINION

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Foxx was seen by activist groups calling for Alvarez’s ouster, such as Black Lives Matter, as an advocate.“The election of Foxx to “state’s attorney would be a watershed moment for  both African-American activist groups and the justice system in Chicago. … The judicial system in Chicago could start a fresh chapter after decades of mass incarceration and police misconduct,” wrote a contributor to the Thinkprogress website.

While Foxx’s credentials became an issue after she was caught inflating the number of trials she conducted as an assistant state’s attorney, that misstep must have seemed minor — if not petty — to voters compared with the ongoing questions that have swirled around Alvarez during this term.

Four years ago, Alvarez  was criticized by this newspaper for refusing to have a special prosecutor re-investigate the violent death of David Koschman. Then came Dante Servin. The off-duty Chicago Police detective was able to escape criminal charges after he fired into a crowd and killed Rekia Boyd because Alvarez’s office charged Servin with manslaughter rather than first-degree murder, the charge a judge felt would have been more appropriate.

But it was the fallout over the video recording that showed Laquan McDonald being shot 16 times by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke that sealed Alvarez’s political fate.

Donna More, a former prosecutor who has worked most recently for the gaming industry, never gained the momentum she needed to compete in this emotionally charged contest.

During her campaign, Foxx, who grew up in the now-dismantled CHA Cabrini-Green public housing development, openly shared her background as a sexual assault victim. Her candor endeared her to younger voters, and people who were, frankly, turned off by Alavarez’s testy demeanor in the face of questions about what she knew about the McDonald video recording and when she knew it.

Obviously, the embattled Cook County state’s attorney had her work cut out for her.

She had to run against against a steady drumbeat of “Anita Must Go,” and without the respect afforded most incumbents unless, of course, they are convicted of corruption.

Her defeat by a political newcomer is a testament to the dissatisfaction that voters have with the criminal justice system in Cook County.

Foxx’s ability to attract the support of a diverse group of supporters also speaks volumes about her desire to bring people together.

“It is work that is going to take the collaboration of stakeholders across all areas. [T]he work we need to do will involve communities, and our faith based leaders and our young folks who have shown up and said that they demand justice for all,” she said.

This victory also bolsters  Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s reputation as the Democratic Party’s newest power broker.

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