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Kim Foxx won big because Cook County doesn’t want to go backward on criminal justice reform

And so much for those cries of “Remember Jussie Smollett!”

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx speaks at her election night headquarters on Tuesday after winning reelection.
AP Photos

When it comes to criminal justice reform — keeping us safe without mindlessly filling up prisons — Cook County voters were clear Tuesday about where they stand:

We can’t go back.

They voted decisively to give Kim Foxx a second term as state’s attorney, though they had been fully apprised by the media and her detractors of the glaring mistakes she made during her first term.

Because we generally share Foxx’ view of law enforcement and ultimate justice — that it involves a lot more than locking people up — we’re pleased that she won and her Republican opponent, Pat O’Brien, lost.

O’Brien was a top assistant state’s attorney back in a day when success in the office was measured by how many scalps a prosecutor collected — how many offenders, even if not dangerous, were put behind bars. It’s a mindset to which Cook County should never return.

Countering Trump

Foxx’s victory was all the more striking because it came on a night when President Donald Trump, who had campaigned for “law and order” in the most brutally retrograde way, made a strong run for a second term. The outcome of the presidential race remains undecided as we write this, but Trump’s message of fear — that dangerous criminals lurk around every corner and Democrats want to set them loose on you — apparently played well.

Not, though, in the blue oasis of Cook County. Or at least not in the City of Chicago proper, where Foxx ran strongest. Foxx beat O’Brien countywide by a vote of about 54% to 40%, with a third candidate, Libertarian Brian Dennehy, pulling another 6%.

So much for those cries of “Remember Jussie Smollett!”

Clear the air

Speaking of which, Foxx really did screw up the case of Smollett, the TV actor who falsely claimed last year to have been the victim of a hate crime. Foxx’s poor handling of the case, which she still refuses to acknowledge, became emblematic of a more general series of missteps by her office.

Even now, we believe Foxx should simply apologize for bungling the case, which cost the Chicago Police a lot of money and time, if only to clear the air as she embarks on her second term. She might also want to finally acknowledge the general accuracy of a report on the whole matter by a special prosecutor, Dan Webb, who concluded that Foxx’s office was guilty of “operational failures.”

Dropping cases

During the campaign, O’Brien, citing a Chicago Tribune investigation, hammered Foxx for dropping many more felony cases, compared to her predecessor, that involved charges of murder and other serious offenses. We frankly have never been convinced this is a problem. A state’s attorney committed to reform is bound to take a more jaundiced eye to cases based on flimsy or questionably obtained evidence.

And as Foxx pointed out, violent crime rates did not go up as a result of those decisions. During her first three years in office, crime rates dropped.

That said, Foxx would be on firmer ground with police departments across the county, and with a nervous public, during her second term if she and her office were more transparent about every decision they make to drop or downgrade felony charges.

Criminal justice reform works best in the brightest sunlight. Fair-minded people might agree it is morally wrong and counterproductive to fill our nation’s jails and prisons with lower-level offenders, often people of color, who pose no particular danger to society.

But people need reassurance as well, based on hard and measurable facts, that reform will never leave them any less safe.

For Kim Foxx over the next four years, that’ll be a big part of the job.

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