Foxx political exit sets the stage for a free-for-all in 2024 race for state’s attorney

After two terms, Kim Foxx said she would not run for reelection, leaving an open seat for Cook County’s top prosecutor next year.

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Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx hugs Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle before announcing she will not seek reelection during a speech at a City Club of Chicago luncheon at Maggiano’s Banquets in River North.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Kim Foxx’s decision not to seek a third term as state’s attorney sets the stage for a political free-for-all not seen in 15 years in Cook County.

The last time there was an open seat in the prosecutor’s office was 2008, when Dick Devine announced he would not seek reelection. That set the stage for the election of one of Devine’s top deputies, Anita Alvarez.

Alvarez served two terms before losing to Foxx in a landslide after the court-ordered release of video showing the fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald.

Alvarez made the monumental decision to charge now-convicted Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke with first-degree murder, but it came too late to save her political career. A staunch supporter of city police officers, Alvarez was held responsible for the long delay between McDonald’s death and the murder charges.

The night of Foxx’s election, her supporters chanted, “Two down. One to go.” The two were Alvarez and former Chicago Police Department Supt. Garry McCarthy. The third, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, subsequently decided not to seek a third term because it was clear he couldn’t win. Emanuel was accused of concealing the McDonald shooting video until he was safely reelected to a second term.

Now, Foxx’s decision to call it quits after two terms has created yet another open seat in the prosecutor’s office.

It’s a giant political opportunity for those willing to take the chance, raise the millions needed to seek countywide office and endure the rigors and scrutiny of what could be an 18-month campaign.

For the moment, at least, powerful Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who doubles as Cook County Democratic chair, has not anointed a replacement for Foxx, her political protégé and former chief of staff. Preckwinkle introduced Foxx at the City Club luncheon where the prosecutor made her announcement, and reportedly has talked to some potential contenders.

Among those is Foxx’s top deputy, Risa Lanier, whom Foxx praised from the dais Tuesday as “her rock,” singling out her work as lead prosecutor in the trial of Shomari Legghette, who murdered CPD Cmdr. Paul Bauer. Lanier, a career prosecutor, also was lead prosecutor on the Jussie Smollett case and was involved in negotiating the controversial — and ultimately voided — deal to drop charges against the actor.

Smollett’s case was eventually brought to trial by a special prosecutor, who issued a report that stated Lanier and then top deputy Joseph Magats gave conflicting accounts of the timeline and the reasoning for the decision to dismiss the case against Smollett. One of Lanier’s predecessors as chief deputy, former federal prosecutor Eric Sussman, explored running against Foxx in 2020, and a number of Foxx’s other top staff have left the office during her two terms.

Former rivals

With a law-and-order pedigree and a billionaire father who bankrolled his 2020 Democratic primary campaign for state’s attorney, newly elected Ald. Bill Conway in downtown’s redrawn 34th Ward has demonstrated the interest and deep pockets that can make him an immediate contender.

His father, William Conway Jr., helped found the private equity firm the Carlyle Group and had a net worth pegged at $3.5 billion in 2020. The elder Conway was willing to write a $10.5 million check to bankroll his son’s losing 2020 primary campaign against Foxx, so surely he would support his son’s second run for what is now an open prosecutor’s seat.

Conway, who finished that 2020 race with 31.1% to Foxx’s 50.5%, released a statement Tuesday saying he is “squarely focused on the job I was just elected to do” and is “not considering” another race for state’s attorney.

He went out of his way to commend Foxx for her “historic work to reverse wrongful convictions, shine a light on racism in our criminal justice system and clear low-level cannabis records.”

Donna More, who finished third in the 2016 and 2020 primaries, also is reportedly interested in making a third bid for the office.

Retiring 21st Ward Chicago Ald. Howard Brookins ran and lost a race for state’s attorney in the 2008 Democratic primary won by Alvarez. Brookins, 59, said Tuesday: “I don’t believe I will ever run for elective office again, although you never say never.”

Joe Ferguson, former Chicago inspector general

Former Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson is, perhaps, the most intriguing name to surface. Before being publicly criticized, then forced out by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Ferguson spent a record 12 years as Chicago’s top watchdog. A former federal prosecutor who served with Lightfoot in the U.S. attorney’s office, Ferguson is widely regarded as the best inspector general Chicago has had.

That corruption-fighting reputation, gravitas and name recognition could serve him well in what would be his maiden voyage in politics. So could Ferguson’s well-honed communication skills.

But Ferguson would first have to leave the job he now holds as head of “Re-Imagine Chicago,” the nonprofit he formed to transform what he calls Chicago’s “19th century machine patronage culture” into a new structure of government capable of solving modern problems.

In a statement, Ferguson said Foxx’s decision to exit the political stage “presents an opportunity” and he will “make a decision in the coming weeks.”

Dan Kirk, former prosecutor

Kirk, who served as chief of staff and top assistant to Alvarez, told the Sun-Times he is seriously considering joining the race.

“What’s obviously clear to me is that Cook County is in desperate need of a new state’s attorney that will do the job with integrity, enforce the law, hold criminals accountable and make public safety their No. 1 priority,” Kirk said Tuesday in a telephone interview from Ireland.

“It’s something I’m considering, to be honest. I certainly haven’t made any decision on it one way or another. I’d like to see who shows interest in running for the position,” he said. “If not me, then it’s imperative that it’s somebody else who believes in the direction that I just articulated.”

Former Cook County Board member Richard Boykin

Boykin lost his seat on the Cook County Board after leading the drive to repeal Preckwinkle’s controversial soda pop tax. Preckwinkle got even by backing Brandon Johnson against Boykin. Johnson’s 2018 election to the County Board launched him on a path to the mayor’s office.

In a telephone interview hours before Foxx’s long-anticipated announcement, Boykin said he was “interested in running” for state’s attorney and has been “encouraged by a number of people who think I’d make an excellent state’s attorney.”

He added: “There’s plenty of time for us to discuss prosecutorial policy and the future of public safety in Cook County. Today is a day to express our appreciation to Kim Foxx for her sacrifice and her service as state’s attorney.”

Former Circuit Judge Pat O’Brien is the Republican nominee who lost to Foxx 54% to 39% in 2020.

O’Brien all but ruled out another campaign for state’s attorney, in part because, “I ran as a Republican, and I can’t do a back flip” by running as a Democrat in overwhelmingly Democratic Cook County.

“It certainly is difficult [to run as a Republican]. And it becomes more difficult in a presidential year when the top of the Republican ticket is someone who is so despised by various voters — both independent Democrats and maybe Republicans — that whoever has got that ‘R’ next to their name in the general election is just gonna have no chance,” O’Brien said.

“I never say never because I saw that movie — the remake of ‘Thunderball.’ But I would be reluctant to do it. … Jack O’Malley, who I served under, was able to win in 1990 and ’92. But those were different times. There were potentially more people [then] who thought either center of the road or Republican in the county. I got, what, 840,000 or 860,000 votes? And I was still 300,000 votes short. Somebody come up with 5 million bucks, and I’ll rethink this.”

Former Ald. Bob Fioretti

Fioretti ran against Foxx in 2020 and finished with just 5% of the vote in a four-way Democratic primary field that included More and Conway.

A perennial candidate who has run repeatedly for mayor and just ran for County Board president against Preckwinkle, Fioretti said he has “a lot of people urging me” to run for state’s attorney again in 2024, and he is “looking at it seriously.”

“I run to make change, and that office has been a disaster. That office is run by Toni Preckwinkle. It’s not run by Kim Foxx. The morale in that office is at an all-time low. People are leaving in droves,” Fioretti said.

“If I run, I’m gonna do three things on the day that I win: One, thank the voters. Two, go to 35th and Michigan and tell the police somebody has their back. And three, go to 26th and California and tell them that we are going to begin prosecuting from now on. If you don’t want to do that, you can turn in your resignation now. Simple as that.”

Other possibilities include retired Judge Arthur Hill Jr. and criminal defense attorney Sam Adam Jr.

Editor’s note: This story was updated since print publication to correct information about former Cook County State’s Attorney Dick Devine’s tenure.

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