In the end, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s detractors may have had the right issue with which to beat her but not the right candidate.
The toll taken by the Jussie Smollett case on Foxx’s popularity was evident in Tuesday’s Democratic primary results that showed the incumbent appearing to fall short of a majority.
But four years after racking up 58% of the vote to oust Anita Alvarez from office, Foxx’s high-40s showing was more than enough to best three challengers who never caught fire and served to undercut each other.
Bill Conway, a former assistant state’s attorney and Navy veteran whose campaign was bankrolled with $10.5 million by his billionaire father, torched Foxx for months with a double-barreled ad campaign aimed at the Smollett debacle and her acceptance of fundraising help from indicted Ald. Edward Burke (14th).
The ads hurt Foxx, but Conway was never able to make a convincing case for himself based on his thin record of public service.
Conway could have benefitted greatly from a newspaper editorial board or two blessing his candidacy, but all the city’s major papers found his credentials for the job lacking.
Donna More, a former federal and state prosecutor turned gaming lawyer, picked up some of those endorsements, but didn’t have the money to take advantage of them to sell herself to a broader public. More, making her second run for the office, did keep the anti-Foxx vote from coalescing around Conway.
Former 2ndWard alderman Bob Fioretti, who keeps on running for higher office despite clear indications from voters that they aren’t buying what he’s selling, got another comeuppance for his troubles but also served to chop up the vote.
Incomplete returns indicated voters in different parts of Cook County were making very different judgments about the state’s attorney contest. Foxx was winning handily in the city but just barely besting Conway.
You know what that usually means in Cook County: race.
From the start, there has been a sense that the Smollett case was provoking a much stronger negative response from white voters, including from some Republican voters who may have taken Democratic ballots Tuesday.
Some of that white backlash may have been racism. Some of it was just a difference of opinion. Black voters may not have liked how Smollett walked away without admitting guilt either, but they were more likely to give Foxx the benefit of the doubt.
Foxx also hung on to enough of her progressive base by successfully arguing that her overall track record delivered on her promise of reform by refocusing the state’s attorney’s office on more serious crime.
More attention than usual will now be paid to whether the Republican nominee, which looks to be former judge and high-ranking assistant state’s attorney Patrick O’Brien, will have a chance against Foxx in November.
That’s extremely unlikely in heavily Democratic Cook County — unless special prosecutor Dan Webb weighs in with new evidence about Foxx’s handling of the Smollett case.
I’m not expecting any.