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County Democrats give seal of approval to Foxx, Neville, others — but that alone won’t seal the deal with voters

The legal woes of numerous party leaders are only the latest factor in why winning the Democratic endorsement isn’t the electoral advantage it used to be.

Cook County Democratic Chair Toni Preckwinkle
Cook County Democratic Chair Toni Preckwinkle listens to candidates during party slating Friday at IBEW Local 134.
Megan Nagorzanski/Sun-Times

Ed Burke, Proco Joe Moreno, Danny Solis and Mike Zalewski were nowhere in sight Friday as their fellow Cook County Democratic committeemen put the finishing touches on a slate of endorsed candidates for 2020.

With Burke and Moreno facing criminal charges, and the other two known to be under federal investigation, their absence was probably all to the better for Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, Supreme Court Justice P. Scott Neville Jr. and the other party picks.

The legal woes of numerous party leaders are only the latest factor in why winning the Democratic endorsement isn’t the electoral advantage it used to be.

Before the committeemen could even finish filing out of the IBEW Local 134 hall where slating was conducted, candidates passed over by party leaders were promising vigorous primary challenges for all the key offices on the ballot.

Foxx will be opposed for the Democratic nomination by Bill Conway, a former assistant state’s attorney now working as a college instructor and serving as a Naval Reservist.

Conway was on reserve duty this week and did not seek the party’s nod, but it wouldn’t have made a difference if he had.

Re-electing Foxx is the top priority of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, the party chair, who worked behind the scenes to shore up support and made sure Foxx was endorsed by acclimation.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle talks to reporters Friday at IBEW Local 134.
Megan Nagorzanski/Sun-Times

In what appeared to be a carefully scripted interview session, committeemen posed a series of questions to Foxx designed to highlight her record, starting with a softball from Leyden Township’s Barrett Pedersen on the issue that has dogged the first term state’s attorney.

“Kim, thanks for the work you’re doing. As our workers go out and circulate petitions, they may get the question about Jussie Smollett. How do you suggest that we respond?” asked Pedersen, the mayor of Franklin Park.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx answers questions from the media Saturday during a press conference at Rainbow PUSH.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx answers questions from the media during a press conference at Rainbow PUSH in April.
Sun-Times file photo

“As I said before, our office has prioritized the prosecution of violent crime,” Foxx responded. “We don’t treat anyone differently whether you are a celebrity or an average citizen. How we disposed of the Smollett case, while for some disappointing in the outcome, was no different than we treated others for a non-violent offense, a Class 4 low level felony, with no criminal background.”

Conway will give her an argument about that, but it will have to wait for another day.

Also facing a primary fight will be Neville, who got a leg up on the election when he was appointed last year to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Charles Freeman. Neville and Freeman are the only African-Americans ever to serve on the Supreme Court and keeping the seat is another major priority of black officials especially.

Six other candidates sought the party’s nod — Cynthia Cobbs, Daniel Epstein, Shelly Harris, Nathaniel Howse, Margaret McBride and Jesse Reyes. Most of them are expected to stay in the race, despite leaders dangling the prospect of an endorsement “next time” if they get out of the way and wait their turn.

Democrats running for the state’s top court:
Democrats running for the state’s top court: Top row, left to right: Supreme Court Justice P. Scott Neville Jr., appellate court justices Nathaniel Howse and Sheldon Harris; bottom row, left to right: appellate court justices Jesse Reyes and Cynthia Cobbs and lawyer Daniel Epstein. Not pictured Appellate Justice Margaret McBride.
File photos.

With Justice Anne Burke’s husband fighting to stay out of prison on corruption charges, the speculation among politicians is that the justice will step down from the court within the next few years and try to anoint a successor.

A multi-candidate field in the current race could produce the usual slicing and dicing of voters along racial and ethnic lines, although supporters of another African-American, Howse, argue it could just as easily produce a repeat of last year’s mayor’s race when Lori Lightfoot and Preckwinkle finished as the top two contenders.

The hardest fought endorsement battle was over an office in which the general public may have the least interest, circuit court clerk.

Board of Review Commissioner Michael Cabonargi got the party’s nod to replace embattled Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown, who announced this week that she would not run again.

Board of Review Commissioner Michael Cabonargi
Board of Review Commissioner Michael Cabonargi, center, was chosen as the Democratic party’s pick to replace outgoing Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown.
Megan Nagorzanski/Sun-Times

Four other candidates — state Sen. Iris Martinez, Water Reclamation District Commissioner Mariyana Spyropoulos, former Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin and lawyer Jacob Meister — said they will stay in the race.

Martinez complained about a “back room deal” to pick Cabonargi and portrayed the decision as a snub to the county’s Hispanic voters. Cabonargi said there was no deal and suggested he worked harder for the endorsement than did Martinez.

Also among the missing Friday was House Speaker Mike Madigan, the state party chair who has investigators circling his 13th Ward organization, although his influence was felt behind-the-scenes.

Among the pols known to be under investigation, only Ald. Carrie Austin, the 34th Ward committeeman and vice chairman of the party, openly participated in the slating sessions. She even gave one of the speeches Thursday on behalf of Howse.

But make no mistake, the Democrats’ preferred 2020 lineup is very much the product of Preckwinkle, who has not allowed her mayoral loss to Lightfoot to erode her party influence.

Now all she has to do is prove she can get them more votes than she got for herself.