Democratic candidate for attorney general: Sharon Fairley

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Democratic attorney general primary candidate Sharon Fairley. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

On Jan. 11, Sharon Fairley appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked her why she’s running for the Democratic nomination for Illinois attorney general in the March 2018 primary:

My name is Sharon Fairley and I was raised by two public servants and I was raised to believe that if you’re not part of the solution then that means that you’re part of the problem. I became a lawyer to be part of the solution. I became a lawyer to dedicate my professional life to public service. As an attorney I’ve only represented the citizens of Illinois. First, as an assistant attorney general in the office that I now seek to lead. I then spent eight years as a federal prosecutor working on the kinds of cases that are directly relevant to the work of the attorney general. The last two years I’ve worked for the city of Chicago as an attorney working on police accountability and police reform. So I think I’ve proven that I can stand up to people in political power and hold them accountable.

I was born in the Jim Crow era and I was a young girl in the ’60s when the Civil Rights Movement was at its height. In the ’70s when the women’s movement was in full swing I was a young woman trying to find my voice in this world. I started my professional life in the 1980s when there were few women in certain professional arenas. So as a woman of color having spent the last 30 plus years in male dominated environments, sure, me too. I’ve been harassed but I’ve also been underpaid, ignored, patronized and marginalized. But, through hard work and perseverance I have stood up for myself and for the citizens that I represent as a lawyer. I know the power of my voice and I will always use it for justice.

The Chicago Sun-Times sent the candidates seeking nominations for Illinois attorney general a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the state of Illinois. Sharon Fairley submitted the following answers to our questionnaire:

QUESTION: The Illinois attorney general has broad discretion in choosing the office’s priorities. What specific cause or causes would you pursue? Please avoid a generic topic or general category in your answer.

ANSWER: The civil rights, health and well-being of Illinois residents are in unprecedented peril and are being threatened daily by a variety of forces – exploitative businesses, entrenched political figures, and regressive, discriminatory policies of state and federal government. The next attorney general must have the courage, tenacity, and legal prowess to stand up to these threats and prevail.

In particular, the Trump Administration is unlike any other threat our democracy has faced in recent history. I look forward to leading the fight against the unjust and unconstitutional attacks on women, people of color, our LGBT communities and the foundations of our government.

I will gladly join the coalition of Democratic Attorneys General, express my personal commitment to their mission, and ask what more the office can do to better protect citizens from the harmful and regressive policies of the Trump Administration. I will then work to ensure there are legal teams assigned and fully resourced to use the powers of the office to combat unconstitutional federal policy positions in areas such as criminal justice and police reform, immigration, education, voting rights, civil rights, and the environment.

Priorities will include:

Filling the void left by the Sessions DOJ in criminal justice reform and civil rights enforcement, including addressing over-incarceration, blocking policies and practices that discriminate against people of color and the LGBTQ community;

Finalizing or enforcing the consent decree between the office and the City of Chicago regarding police reform;

Continuing to litigate and advocate in support of DACA and sanctuary cities;

Using the legal process to address the DeVos roll-back of essential educational policies such as those regarding the investigation of sexual assault on campus and rights of student victims of loan fraud;

Vigilant oversight of the administration’s policies and legal strategies that have the potential to undermine voters rights; and

Continuing to advocate in support of important national environmental initiatives such as the Clean Power Plan, heightened vehicle emissions standards, and other programs that will reduce our carbon footprint and create cleaner air and water for future generations.

Sharon Fairley

Running for: Democratic nomination for Illinois attorney general

Political/civic background:

Oct 2017 to presentAttorney/Candidate for Illinois Attorney General
Dec 2015 to Oct 2017Chief Administrator

Civilian Office of Police Accountability

Independent Police Review Authority

City of Chicago

Apr 2015 to Dec 2015First Deputy Inspector General/General Counsel

Office of the Inspector General

City of Chicago

Mar 2007 to Mar 2015Assistant United States Attorney

U.S. Attorney’s Office, Northern District of Illinois

Oct 2006 to Mar 2007Assistant Attorney General

Office of the Illinois Attorney General

Vice Chair, YMCA of Metro Chicago Board of Managers

Member, Woman’s Board of the Art Institute (arts education initiatives/volunteering)

Member, Steppenwolf Theatre, Board of Trustees

Mentor, University of Chicago Women’s Mentoring Program

Mentor, Princeton Alumni Fellowship Program

Occupation: Attorney

Education:Princeton University, B.S. Engineering, magna cum laude; University of Pennsylvania Wharton School, M.B.A., Marketing; and University of Chicago Law School, J.D.

Campaign website:

QUESTION: What would you do as attorney general to identify and combat public corruption at the state, county and local levels?

ANSWER: The attorney general must play a much more proactive role in rooting out and prosecuting political corruption. For example, I believe the attorney general should have alerted the legislature and the public that the Legislative Inspector General position was vacant.

The following are some ways in which the office can promote public integrity:

Work to introduce and advocate for revisions to the statute governing the Illinois Legislative Ethics Commission and Legislative Inspector General;

Establish and publicize a complaint line for individuals to call to report allegations of misconduct by public officials or government agency employees;

Coordinate with the state’s attorneys to ensure that any public corruption and police misconduct prosecutions in which the state’s attorney has a conflict of interest are referred to the office for prosecution to the extent permissible by law;

Work with law enforcement to establish a statewide public integrity task force to ensure that local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies can coordinate activities and share strategies and tactics for investigating public corruption matters; and

Ensure that county and local governments without inspectors general have policies and procedures to address official misconduct. Where there are gaps provide guidance and resources.


QUESTION: Why have the people of Illinois had to rely solely on federal prosecutors, with little or no contribution from the state attorney general’s office, to do the job of rooting out local public corruption? Or do you disagree with this assessment?

ANSWER: Federal prosecutors play an important role in the fight against government corruption, but we cannot rely on the federal government alone to deliver the oversight our state needs. All too often, the state’s attorneys lack the resources, expertise, or political will to bring criminal corruption cases against political actors. Moreover, many municipalities lack oversight bodies that have the resources and expertise to investigate political corruption. The attorney general’s grand jury authority most definitely should be expanded to include the investigation and prosecution of corrupt acts committed by local, county, and state government workers. The attorney general can also provide guidance and support to local governments regarding the appropriate checks and balances necessary to uncover and prosecute corrupt government actors.

QUESTION: What is the responsibility of the attorney general’s office in supporting and enforcing federal laws and the policies of the Trump administration? Please be specific in identifying any laws or policies you believe should or should not be rigorously enforced.

ANSWER: Having taken the oath of office, the attorney general cannot knowingly act contrary to federal or state law. However, the attorney general has a responsibility to act in the best interests of Illinois residents. Therefore, she must always pursue any available reasonable interpretations of law and policy that most appropriately address our needs. The following are examples of the key issues:

The AG should continue to offer support for DACA and Dreamers;

The AG should not support Sessions’ rollback of policies related to the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana by the states;

The AG should continue to support the rights of sanctuary cities and continue to advise Illinois Law Enforcement on their obligations under the Illinois Trust Act;

The AG should continue to oppose Trump’s backing out of the Clean Power Plan and should continue to advocate for effective federal and state environmental policies;

The AG should oppose any actions by the Trump administration to undermine affirmative action;

The AG should oppose any policies or legislation intended to undermine women’s reproductive rights and access to contraception;

The AG should oppose any policies or legislation intended to undermine workers’ rights to unionize and engage in collective bargaining; and

The AG should oppose any policies or legislation that might undermine the civil rights of the LGBTQ community, including their ability to serve in the military and access to bathrooms corresponding to the gender with which they identify.

QUESTION: Attorney General Madigan joined an amicus brief in a federal suit opposing the Trump administration’s efforts to cut off federal public safety grants to “sanctuary” cities. Would you have done the same? Madigan also has called on Gov. Rauner to reject any request by the Trump administration to use local law enforcement officers as “immigration officials.” What would you have done?

ANSWER: I agree with Attorney General Madigan’s actions. The Trump administration’s attacks on immigrants are against everything our country stands for and must be challenged. This is not just about the fair treatment of individuals who have come to this country because of the freedom and prosperity it represents, this is a public safety issue. According to a recent study in the University of Chicago Press, a majority of law enforcement officials reported that in places where local police had been involved in immigration enforcement, immigrants were far more reluctant to contact the police if they were victims of, or witnesses to, a crime. A majority also believe that such involvement also negatively impacts trust between immigrant communities and the police, which is essential to fighting crime.

QUESTION: What would you do to address the problem of gun violence? And if you say you would “take on” the NRA, how exactly would you do that?

ANSWER: As attorney general, I will address gun violence in a comprehensive manner that not only promotes common sense gun legislation but works to get at the root causes of gun violence. Nearly 1,000 Illinois residents and 30,000 individuals across America are killed by guns each year.

I have seen first-hand the devastating effects of gun violence to families, communities, and the very fabric of our society. I have been dedicated in my professional and personal life to addressing the problem of gun violence. During my tenure as an Assistant United States Attorney, I investigated and prosecuted numerous cases involving the illegal use and possession of firearms. In particular, I worked with the ATF to disrupt a firearms trafficking ring that was bringing in illegally purchased firearms from out of state and selling them on the streets of Chicago.

Gun violence is a public health crisis that needs to be attacked in a comprehensive manner. As attorney general, I will be proactive on two major fronts: (1) common sense gun legislation; and (2) a community-driven approach on education, after-school programs, and economic development.

As for gun legislation, I will promote federal and state gun legislation that can actually have an impact on the illegal use and possession of firearms in Illinois. First, I will work against the “reciprocity for concealed carry” legislation.

I will also work to (1) push for a ban on assault-type weapons and related equipment such as bump stocks; (2) enhance and enforce legislation which prevents individuals involved in domestic violence from obtaining or possessing firearms; and (3) will work alongside law enforcement to promote better enforcement of the revocation of firearms licenses in Illinois.

I will work hand-in-hand with community groups to urge the Illinois legislature to pass the Gun Dealer Licensing Act, which would give state authorities and law enforcement the tools to encourage better business practices among federally licensed gun dealers and hold corrupt dealers accountable to slow the flow of illegal gun trafficking in Illinois. From 2009 to 2013, 40 percent of the guns used in crimes in Chicago came from gun dealers within Illinois. However, due to current loopholes in federal law and a lack of federal resources for enforcement, Illinois doesn’t have the tools and authority it needs to combat illegal or negligent business practices.

We know that strengthening gun laws alone will not solve the problem. That is why I will adopt a community-based approach to increase access to after-school programs, partner with community groups to take back their communities, and promote education and economic development.

QUESTION: Everybody running for this office promises to be an advocate for ordinary people. What, in concrete terms, does that mean?

ANSWER: The attorney general is a lawyer who must truly represent the people of Illinois. She must advocate for those whose voices have been silenced or drowned out by the profound imbalance of power and resources in our state, which only widens as our political leaders become ever more entrenched and susceptible to the influence of the wealthy and special interest groups.

I was born into the age of Jim Crow. I have seen “For Whites Only” signs over water fountains. I was a young girl during the race riots of the 1960s. During the 1970s, when the Women’s Movement was in full swing, I was a young woman finding my voice in this world. I started my professional life in the 1980s, when women were still rare in many professional arenas. As a woman of color who has spent the last 30+ years in male-dominated work environments, I have experienced sexual harassment, I have been underpaid, and I have been asked to wait my turn for the next promotion opportunity. I have been ignored, patronized, and marginalized. Yet, through hard work and perseverance, I have fought to defend myself and the people I represented as a lawyer. I have learned the power of my voice. And I will always use it in support of justice.

The people of our state need an attorney general who has the courage and fortitude to stand strong and fight for those who don’t have the power or resources to defend themselves.

QUESTION: How in general would you follow or depart from the approach to the job taken by Lisa Madigan?

ANSWER: Lisa Madigan has been a reliable advocate for Illinois residents. As a citizen, I am personally grateful for her years of dedicated service. I want to build on her legacy, especially in the area of consumer protection, where I will work to bring more resources to the office to enhance and expand the support we provide constituents. I will also look to establish a broader, more proactive role of the office in contributing to public safety across Illinois through smart criminal justice reform, police accountability reform, and enhanced police-community relations. Under my leadership, the office also will play a much bigger role in rooting out corruption at every level of government.

Check out our profiles on other candidates in this race:

Scott Drury

Aaron Goldstein

Renato Mariotti

Pat Quinn

Kwame Raoul

Nancy Rotering

Jesse Ruiz

Gary Grasso

Erika Harold

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