Brown: Voters can decide whether Alvarez has to go

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Cook County Commissioner Jesus ‘Chuy’ Garcia and other Latino elected officials called on Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez to resign. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

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Calling for Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez to resign doesn’t make a lot of sense when there is an election four months away that will give voters the opportunity to retire her if they wish.

But it makes for good politics.

Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and six members of the City Council’s Latino Caucus on Monday issued their demand for Alvarez’ resignation over her handling of the prosecution of Police Officer Jason Van Dyke for the shooting of Laquan McDonald.

It was the first open effort to drive a wedge between Alvarez and her Latino political base, a key factor in an election in which Alvarez is already seen as being in big trouble with African-American voters.

By calling for Alvarez to resign, the Latino officeholders got more attention than if they had just endorsed one of her opponents — and earned themselves a second bite at the apple when they do name their candidate.


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Garcia said he has not yet decided whom he will support for state’s attorney, although most of us expect he’ll join up with Kim Foxx, who has the support of County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. The third major candidate in the race is Donna More.

Preckwinkle piled on Alvarez with the others Monday, saying her running of the state’s attorney’s office has been “disgraceful” and echoing their allegations that Alvarez had taken too long to bring charges against Van Dyke.

Garcia has been Preckwinkle’s ally on the County Board, although she never endorsed his failed mayoral bid. Still, his intentions in the state’s attorney’s race were enough in doubt that Alvarez met with him a month ago to seek his support. I think she can take this as a strong sign that she won’t be getting it.

Joining Garcia for the press conference were aldermen Ric Munoz (22nd), Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), Gilbert Villegas (36th). Aldermen Joseph Moreno (1st) and Roberto Maldonado (26th) also sent word of their support for the demand for Alvarez’s resignation.

These are the Latino political leaders who were always most likely to make a break with Alvarez.

Latino politics is split between those who regard themselves as progressives and those whose alliances more closely align with the old guard of the Cook County Democratic Party — along with a couple of in-betweeners. This was the progressives and the tweeners.

In past elections, Alvarez has also had the support of the progressives, who knew their constituents were most likely going to vote for her anyway. Even before Laquan McDonald, they were looking for an escape plan, having soured on her over a variety of issues.

While I’m more than open to ending Alvarez’s tenure in the state’s attorney’s office, I don’t see her as being part of any cover-up in this case.

If you’re trying to cover something up, you don’t join forces with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office.

You bring them in to help shield you from the heat when the case is charged and to benefit from the legitimacy of their findings.

Federal investigators have greater credibility with the public than do local prosecutors, which of course would have been even more important in the event the case had resulted in a decision to bring no charges.

The fact that federal prosecutors were not yet ready to move forward on an indictment when Alvarez did last week gives me pause about the case.

What do they know that hasn’t been publicly shared? Is there evidence that will make the case against Van Dyke stronger or weaker?

In theory, federal investigators would have aimed their investigation more in the direction of whether there was any effort to obstruct justice — by Van Dyke or others participating in a cover up.

That remains an avenue of greater interest to me than the shooting itself, because it speaks to the wider police culture of protecting their own. To my mind, that is a much more insidious problem than a lone officer making a very bad decision to pull the trigger — and more inexplicably, to keep pulling it.

When the feds are involved in an investigation, they are in the driver’s seat, and they always move at their own pace, which is to say, methodically.

I can’t quarrel with them for taking the time to get it right any more than I can with Alvarez for hurrying her timetable to beat the release of the videotape to reassure the public that something is being done.

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