“We can’t go back to the bad old days. Chicago simply can’t afford more of Pat O’Brien,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot tweeted Tuesday.
The missive jumped out of my phone. It was linked to a post on Rich Miller’s Capitol Fax political newsletter: “The City Of Chicago, The State Of Illinois & Cook County Paid Out A Total Of Over $64 Million In Settlements Due To Wrongful Convictions Under Pat O’Brien.”
Republican O’Brien is aiming to oust Democratic Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx in the Nov. 3 election.
The Foxx campaign asserts that “20 men who were wrongfully convicted” during O’Brien’s tenure as chief of criminal prosecutions for the state’s attorney’s office, “later received monetary compensation from the ccity of Chicago, Cook County or the state of Illinois, or are currently suing for compensation.”
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Lightfoot’s blast came at a busy time. She has just unveiled a painful, pandemic-era city budget proposal; imposed new, onerous COVID-19 restrictions on the city’s restaurants and bars; and appealed again for ever-elusive federal support from Washington, D.C.
But amid that, the mayor found time to take a hard slap at Foxx’s opponent.
Lightfoot and Foxx are both Democrats but have not always been cozy.
Foxx is a treasured protégé and political ally of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. The brutal face-off between Preckwinkle and Lightfoot in the 2019 mayoral runoff made them bitter enemies. While now in an uneasy truce, they occasionally clash on policy issues.
Like O’Brien, Lightfoot has raised questions about Foxx’s performance as the county’s top prosecutor. In August, Lightfoot and Chicago Police Supt. David Brown made headlines when they suggested looters who had wreaked havoc during last June’s racial justice protests were not brought to justice.
Chicago police made more than 100 arrests, Lightfoot and Brown said at a press conference, but Foxx’s office failed to follow up. “We have made the case. We have the videos, we have the officer testimony,” Lightfoot said. “These people need to be held accountable and not cycled through the system.”
“These criminals were emboldened by no consequences in the criminal system,” Brown added.
Foxx denied the charge, saying, “When the cases are brought to us, and the facts and the evidence support it, we will charge those cases.”
Yet the perception lingers that Foxx’s policies are hampering the city’s efforts to fight crime and violence, and O’Brien is happily pushing that view.
What’s up with that tweet? I asked a Lightfoot spokesperson, who replied with a statement from the mayor:
“We must not go backwards to the failed approach that Pat O’Brien supports — an approach that put innocent people in prison and cost Chicago taxpayers tens of millions of dollars,” Lightfoot said. “As a former federal prosecutor, I know we have a responsibility to our residents, and particularly to the victims, to hold the guilty accountable. But we undermine all notions of justice when the innocent are denied a fair trial and wrongfully imprisoned.”
Lightfoot, Foxx and Preckwinkle are about a business that transcends their past battles.
The three most powerful politicians in Chicago are all African American women. All conquered the barriers of racism and sexism long before the nation’s recent racial “awakening.”
Their lived experiences bear the wounds of pervasive racist practices and policies in the criminal justice system and beyond.
“We cannot afford to go back to those dark days. For women like myself and Kim, justice is not an abstract thing,” Lightfoot said. “We know when the deck is stacked against us. That’s why I voted for Kim.”
For Foxx, it’s the best re--election argument yet.
Laura S. Washington is a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and a political analyst for ABC-7 Chicago
Follow Laura Washington on Twitter @mediadervish
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