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Kim Foxx looks weak when she ducks debates with Pat O’Brien in state’s attorney race

Cook County voters will decide the outcome of the state’s attorney’s race. To cast an informed vote, it would help if they could see the candidates debate.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who is running reelection, has declined to debate challenger Pat O’Brien on TV.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Kim Foxx is afraid to debate Pat O’Brien. That Kim Foxx?

The first-term Democratic Cook County state’s attorney has declined invitations to debate Republican challenger O’Brien in televised debates on ABC-7 and WTTW.

Foxx is rejecting O’Brien’s “Trump-like name calling and fear mongering,” says Foxx spokesperson Alex Sims.

For example, when the candidates appeared on Sept. 17 before the Daily Herald editorial board, O’Brien repeatedly dubbed her a “social worker” and a “cheerleader for criminals.”

The Foxx campaign charges that O’Brien, a former Cook County prosecutor and judge, is distorting her record while evading criticism of his own.

Foxx will not “debate lies,” Sims said. “America saw how that went on Tuesday.”

She was referring to the debacle of Tuesday’s presidential debate, in which President Donald Trump whipsawed America with jabbering deceits.

“Mr. O’Brien dodges all questions about his record of 27 wrongful convictions while misleading the voters about how the state’s attorney’s office works,” Sims said. “We have no reason to believe that this behavior will change. Voters deserve more and are tired of these Trump-inspired Republican tactics.”

But O’Brien sees it otherwise.

“She doesn’t want to debate because she doesn’t want to have to defend policies that are indefensible,” he told ABC-7.

Foxx’ decision is “a disservice to the people of Cook County,” the Sun-Times quoted him as saying. “It seems to me that the voters have a right in this kind of setting to hear both of us answer questions and challenge each other on our answers.”

O’Brien is right.

Voters will decide the Nov. 3 election. To do that, they need to see the candidates debate their cases.

They have appeared together, virtually, on only two occasions, before the Daily Herald and Chicago Sun-Times editorial boards.

Incumbents like to duck debates, especially when they are ahead. Foxx was beating O’Brien by more than 14 points, with 18% of the likely voters undecided, in a recent poll by Ogden and Fry.

O’Brien is a little-known former prosecutor and Cook County judge now in private practice. Why, goes the thinking, give him the high-profile stage of a televised debate?

But it looks like Foxx is ducking. She is better, and tougher, than that.

Foxx grew up in the notoriously troubled Cabrini Green housing development. Sexually assaulted at age 5 by a relative, her family was homeless for a time. She witnessed family, neighbors and friends suffer at the hands of a racist criminal justice system.

Foxx rose to become the first Black woman to lead the nation’s second largest prosecutors office. While her tenure has been marred by her handling of the Jussie Smollett case, she still can defend a strong record.

In the March Democratic primary, Chicago lawyer Bill Conway spent $10.5 million to challenge her. Foxx knocked him off.

A poised communicator who possesses a fine legal mind, Foxx has carved out a national profile as a progressive criminal justice reformer.

For Foxx, debating O’Brien should be chump change.

I watched the editorial board sessions, which are available online. The encounters were hostile and argumentative, but also informative and telling.

Foxx will do one-on-one media interviews any time, Sims said.

“She’s never been afraid to debate someone,” she added. “But we can’t operate in a place where there’s different rules.”

By taking this pass, Foxx betrays her pledge for transparency and reform. She is depriving voters of a late-breaking, focused opportunity to hear the candidates defend their records.

She can do better.

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