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Alvarez, rivals trade jabs over credibility, honesty, conflicts

Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez argued Friday that her experience and independence are critical at a time of public unease with crime and policing – and accused her two Democratic challengers of dishonesty, conflicts of interest and political agendas that would undermine the integrity of the office.

But rivals Kim Foxx and Donna More attempted to put Alvarez’s record on trial, charging that after seven years in office she is one of the reasons for a “crisis of confidence” in the local criminal justice system.

“My credibility speaks for itself,” Alvarez said, touting her 29 years as a prosecutor, including the last seven as state’s attorney.

More and Foxx agreed that the incumbent’s record needs no explanation, but not in the way Alvarez intended. “Anita Alvarez is the only person who doesn’t seem to realize there’s a crisis of confidence in her office,” Foxx said.

The candidates appeared together before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board, debating how the county’s top prosecutor handled the Laquan McDonald shooting, what to do about the epidemic of gun violence and who is best positioned to restore trust among a wary public.

Alvarez repeatedly attacked the credibility of her challengers. She noted that More is a registered lobbyist who went from serving on the state’s gaming board to working as an attorney for casino interests.

Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez (center) and her opponents in the March 15 Democratic primary election, Kim Foxx (left) and Donna More, debate before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board, Friday, Feb. 5, 2016. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez (center) and her opponents in the March 15 Democratic primary election, Kim Foxx (left) and Donna More, debate before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board, Friday, Feb. 5, 2016. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

More said she made sure her clients followed the law – then attacked Alvarez for accepting campaign contributions from attorneys that sue Cook County, which the state’s attorney’s office defends.

But Alvarez saved most of her shots for Foxx, citing a Sun-Times column by Dan Mihalopoulos questioning whether Foxx had overstated the number of trials she worked on during more than four years as an assistant prosecutor. “What else are you lying about?” she asked Foxx.

Foxx countered that Alvarez’s office had deliberately undercounted the number of cases she’d worked on and released it to the media. “The state’s attorney is using her office for political reasons,” Foxx said.

“Let’s talk about honesty and using this office politically,” Alvarez fired back, ripping Foxx for accepting campaign donations from contractors who received county business when Foxx served as chief of staff to Toni Preckwinkle, the County Board president. “You’re sitting here because of a politician who wants to control this office and everything else.”

But Foxx noted that Alvarez has received thousands of dollars in contributions from her employees. Among them was Daniel Gallagher, head of the civil bureau in her office until he resigned in October after attracting attention for several crude and racist posts on Facebook.

Foxx and More also hammered Alvarez over her handling of the Laquan McDonald case, saying it was emblematic of her reluctance to prosecute police misconduct.

Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez (center) and her opponents in the March 15 Democratic primary election, Kim Foxx (left) and Donna More, debate before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez (center) and her opponents in the March 15 Democratic primary election, Kim Foxx (left) and Donna More, debate before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

In November, the state’s attorney’s office charged Officer Jason Van Dyke with murder for shooting McDonald 16 times more than a year earlier. Alvarez said that was the result of a thorough, 13-month investigation.

“It shows a lack of experience to say that you can look at a video and in 24 hours say you can charge this case,” Alvarez said. Cases involving police shootings are “extremely complex,” she said, because cops are authorized to use force.

“I stand by what we did,” she said. “If mistakes were made, it’s that I didn’t inform the public what the status was as we were going along.”

That didn’t fly with her challengers, who stressed that Alvarez didn’t bring charges until a few hours before the court-ordered release of the shooting video. “I’m happy that after seven years in office, Ms. Alvarez realizes she needs to communicate with the public,” said More. “This office has a history and a pattern and a practice of not indicting cases with police officers and not informing the public.”

According to Foxx and More, that includes the case of David Koschman, who died in 2004 after being punched by a nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley. Though the Sun-Times found evidence suggesting a police cover-up, Alvarez opposed the appointment of a special prosecutor to re-examine the case. A Cook County judge overruled her, and the nephew, Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko, ended up pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter in January 2014.

Alvarez insisted Friday that she pushed for an independent investigation soon after the case was brought to her attention.

To the contrary, said Foxx, justice was denied in the case because of “the stonewalling that was done by this state’s attorney.”