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Mihalopoulos: Big bet on ‘dark horse’ in state’s attorney’s race

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s aggressive push to replace two-term State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez with her former chief of staff Kim Foxx has captured almost all of the early attention in the race for the county’s top law-enforcement job.

The looming showdown in the March Democratic primary continued to build last week, as Foxx — who stepped down as the president’s top aide on Aug. 7 — reported getting a $25,000 contribution from Preckwinkle. State Sen. Kwame Raoul, a longtime Preckwinkle ally, gave another $10,000 to Foxx on Thursday.

That pales next to what another Alvarez challenger, political newcomer Donna More, has raised so far. More, who’s poised to formally announce her bid for state’s attorney this week, has taken in $99,000 in political contributions from her husband and her mother, among more than $200,000 that her campaign has received in total.

OPINION

More’s family wealth alone could transform her into a dark horse contender, much as Alvarez won a crowded primary in 2008 with a huge infusion of campaign cash from her husband.

But the battle for such a vitally important office should be about much more than money, and More told me this week why she feels she could do a better job than Alvarez or any other candidate.

“I’m actually not a politician, and I’m not beholden to politicians,” More says. “I’m an experienced attorney who’s running to do a job — not for a job. I think that’s what differentiates me . . . I don’t need a job, but there’s a job that I want to do.”

More points to a familiar litany of controversial cases in Alvarez’s office, including the failed prosecution of Chicago Police officer Dante Servin on involuntary manslaughter charges.

“The office has to be consistent in its indictments,” More says. “Nobody is above the law, whether it’s police or prosecutors. Right now, it’s selective. If there’s heat on a case, it’s different than if there’s not heat on a case.”

She also says she would be “a leader not just in the state’s attorney’s office but in the entire criminal justice system,” developing alternative-sentencing programs and working with the private sector to increase job opportunities for ex-offenders.

More, 57, grew up in Evanston but lives in Lincoln Park with her husband, public-relations executive Hud Englehart, and their 11-year-old daughter.

After graduating from Georgetown University’s law school in 1983, she spent five years in the state’s attorney’s office, followed by a stint as a federal prosecutor here.

In 1990, she became the first chief legal counsel for the newly formed Illinois Gaming Board. And for the last 20 years, since leaving the gaming board, she has represented a variety of gaming interests.

Her deep ties to gaming companies, which are already contributing to her campaign, and her support for Republicans — including Bruce Rauner — are two areas where her primary opponents will look to attack More.

Perhaps the most obvious blemish on her record was a 2008 case in New Jersey in which a state appeals court upheld the revocation of the Tropicana casino’s license and blasted More, who was the gaming company’s general counsel.

“With her background, a succession of inadvertent regulatory missteps should not have been the norm,” the court decision read.

More says the company “never violated rules or regulations,” and she suggested that politics drove the unfavorable court decision.

“This is not the 1940s or the 1950s,” she says. “Some gaming companies are run by Harvard business graduates. They are some of the most transparent companies in the country.”

State records show More contributed $2,500 to Rauner’s campaign in September 2014. She offers no apologies for it.

“I’m bipartisan,” she says. “I don’t view the state’s attorney as being Democrat or Republican. I’m not beholden to anybody on either side of the aisle.”

Alvarez will have plenty of chances and enough resources to defend her record in office. She has shown little inclination to back down under criticism, in court or in the media.

But Alvarez could find herself fending off well-coordinated attacks from more than one credible challenger.