Preckwinkle’s pick slated by Cook County Democratic Party to replace Kim Foxx

Clayton Harris III, a former prosecutor and political aide, joins former Illinois Appellate Court Justice Eileen O’Neill Burke in the March 2024 primary run for state’s attorney.

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Clayton Harris III, who’s held various state and local government roles, joins former Illinois Appellate Court Justice Eileen O’Neill Burke in the March 2024 race.

Clayton Harris III is a University of Chicago lecturer. He also worked as an assistant to former Mayor Richard M. Daley, a chief of staff for the Illinois Department of Transportation and a one-time top aide to ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

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Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s pick to replace outgoing State’s Attorney Kim Foxx received a key seal of approval Tuesday as the Cook County Democratic Party voted to slate Clayton Harris III in next year’s primary election.

The formal party backing promises to power Harris’ campaign with money and political foot soldiers in the scramble to replace Foxx, another Preckwinkle protege who announced in April that she wouldn’t seek a third term.

“I’ve been energized by the opportunity to travel across the county, hearing people’s concerns, and listening to their ideas on how to make our communities safer,” Harris said in a statement. “I’m committed to doing the work to ensure our office focuses on holding violent offenders accountable, and continues to push forward on the urgent work of reform.”

Harris, a University of Chicago lecturer, has a lengthy resume that includes stints as an assistant to former Mayor Richard M. Daley, a chief of staff at the Illinois Department of Transportation — and a one-time top aide to disgraced ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Former Illinois Appellate Court Justice Eileen O’Neill Burke, the only other declared candidate in the state’s attorney race, said in a statement she was “disappointed that the committee overlooked a woman with thirty years of experience in every corner of the courtroom.”

“With the implementation of the SAFE-T Act and other reforms on the horizon, this election is critical to the future of Cook County,” O’Neill Burke said. “As a former prosecutor, criminal defense attorney, and judge, I look forward to sharing my vision for public safety and restorative justice with the voters and building the best prosecutor’s office in the country.”

Eileen O’Neill Burke,

Eileen O’Neill Burke

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The slating decision was all but a lock. Preckwinkle, who chairs the county party, backed Harris in pre-slating party sessions in the spring, and her campaign sent $10,000 to his on July 31. Harris has raised at least $27,500 over the past few weeks, according to filings with the Illinois State Board of Elections.

O’Neill Burke, a native Northwest Sider who lives in the South Loop, has raised more than $46,000 — largely from fellow attorneys — since announcing her run last month.

Harris, a Washington Park resident, was a prosecutor under former Cook County State’s Attorney Dick Devine; an intergovernmental affairs assistant to former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley; and lead counsel for the Chicago Department of Transportation.

Harris went on to the Illinois Transportation Department and eventually became the final chief of staff to Blagojevich late in the tenure of the governor who was later convicted on corruption charges.

Clayton Harris III, pictured at the Port of Chicago in 2017.

Clayton Harris III, pictured at the Port of Chicago in 2017.

Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times (file)

In a 2012 letter to a federal judge, Harris — who was never accused of wrongdoing — described “chaos” in Blagojevich’s office, including “an episode where I was directed to fire the entire legal department because they lacked the professionalism that the governor believed should have been exhibited.” He also said Blagojevich ordered him to hire an unemployed lawyer “he met in line at Starbucks to be chief legal counsel of the state of Illinois!”

Harris didn’t follow up on either request, but he “did allow [Blagojevich] to believe” that he would do so because that was the best way to refocus the governor’s attention on more important matters, Harris wrote.

Harris formed a committee for a potential state’s attorney campaign in 2008, but he didn’t run, records show. Anita Alvarez ended up winning the first of her two terms that year.

More recently, Harris served as executive director of the Illinois International Port District from 2016-2020 and then as public policy director for the ride-hailing giant Lyft through 2022, according to a LinkedIn profile. His teaching at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy has focused on “the possible solutions available to change how race is policed.”

O’Neill Burke was an assistant Cook County state’s attorney for 10 years, “handling felony appellate cases while supervising other attorneys’ appellate cases,” as well as stints working in the juvenile courts and felony review, according to her campaign. She later worked as a defense lawyer before winning a seat on the Cook County Circuit Court bench in 2008 and appellate court in 2016.

More candidates are expected to jump into the race as petitions begin circulating next month to appear on the ballot for the March 19, 2024, election.

Several familiar faces have said they were mulling campaigns, including former Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson; former Cook County Board member Richard Boykin; former Ald. Bob Fioretti; and former prosecutor Dan Kirk, a top aide to Alvarez.

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