Kim Foxx won a three-way Democratic primary for Cook County state’s attorney in 2016 with 58 percent of the vote, getting more than twice as many votes as the second place finisher, incumbent Anita Alvarez.
Along the way, Foxx racked up winning totals of more than 80 percent in city wards and suburban townships with predominately African American populations.
Perhaps less well appreciated is that she also was the heavy favorite of voters in liberal strongholds such Evanston, Oak Park and New Trier townships, as well as along on the city’s north lakefront.
As she measures the political calculus of re-election amid the continued fallout over her office’s handling of the Jussie Smollett case, Foxx might want to keep in mind it’s that latter group of supporters who could hold the key to whether she gets a chance at a second term.
So far, Foxx has put her emphasis on closing ranks with black leaders to form a first line of defense, understandable to some extent given the tenor of the hyped-up calls for her resignation from the police union and suburban police chiefs.
But Foxx is not going to get four more years if she and her backers continue to try to portray the broader uproar over Smollett’s exceedingly lenient treatment as primarily a matter of race.
White people, especially those who saw her candidacy as a breath of fresh air and voted for her in 2016, are not going to be made to feel like racists just because they believe she terribly mishandled this matter. I say that with some confidence because I am one of them.
Neither are those people going to get caught up by silly demands that she step down. What they’re going to do is wait until March 17, 2020, now less than 11 months away, and vote her out of office.
That depends, of course, to a considerable extent on who runs against her. Elections are a matter of choices, and a bad opponent might still leave Foxx as the better option.
As it stands now, though, Foxx still has some serious explaining to do, even as she declared Friday that she is through explaining — or commenting at all — about the Smollett case until Cook County Inspector General Patrick Blanchard completes his review of how her office handled the matter.
I’m not sure that even a clean bill of health from Blanchard can save Foxx from what people can see about this case on its face.
That’s what makes the Smollett case so different, and so politically volatile.
Unlike most of the matters that come before the state’s attorney, regular folks feel like they have a pretty good handle on the Smollett case after watching it play out on a daily basis. They’ve made their judgment.
It’s not that complicated. Smollett lied about a hate crime that never happened. It was a lie that wasted police resources and made Chicago look bad, a lie he chose to perpetuate even after being allowed to go free.
From the start, Foxx has been tone deaf about why this makes people angry.
She told WBEZ last month that “there’s some people who were never going to be satisfied unless Mr. Smollett spent many nights in prison.”
That’s true. There are such people. Foxx doesn’t need to concern herself with such people.
She needs to concern herself with all the people who understand the “Empire” actor doesn’t belong in prison but that he needed to be required to admit his guilt, apologize and receive some form of mild punishment — whether that was REAL community service or financial restitution or both.
Instead, her office allowed Smollett to walk out of the courtroom and continue to insult the community he tried to impugn.
I realize many people are caught up in the mystery of whether Foxx waylaid the case because of some additional outside intervention that may yet be revealed. Could be. Can’t rule it out.
I think there’s another, simpler explanation that makes just as much sense.
Foxx came into office believing the criminal justice system has unfairly treated young African-American males, a valid criticism that is one of the reasons she was elected.
Unfortunately, she tried to shoehorn the Smollett case into that narrative. It doesn’t fit.
And now voters are left with doubts about her handling of all those cases on which they are less informed.