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Nothing off limits in fiery Cook County state’s attorney debate

Democratic candidates for Cook County State's Attorney, from left, Donna More, Kim Foxx, and Anita Alvarez participate in a debate Friday evening. | ABC7 Chicago

Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez continued to defend her handling of the Laquan McDonald murder case — even hinting at potential federal charges against police officers who lied about the investigation – while her opponents flung fiery labels at each other during a televised debate taped Friday night.

During the debate, which will air at 11 a.m. Sunday on ABC-7, Alvarez was accused of lacking judgment and being part of a cover-up in the McDonald murder investigation; Kim Foxx, former chief of staff to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and a former assistant state’s attorney, was dubbed a machine politician and a liar. And Donna More, a former state and federal prosecutor, was labeled inexperienced for not having tried police officers in police-involved shootings.

The attacks came on fast and furious during the debate, just a day after the trio held a radio debate on WBEZ.

Foxx criticized Alvarez for denying her office is suffering a “crisis of confidence.”

“The reason that Ms. Alvarez cannot fix this problem is because she’s the only person in Cook County who doesn’t seem to realize that there’s a lack of trust in her office. The way you fix this problem is, you first acknowledge it, and then you meet with the community, you meet with law enforcement where they are,” Foxx said, calling the problem “part of a larger pattern of practice and a larger disengagement from the community that the state’s attorney has been sworn to serve.”

When asked about why officers who lied on police reports in the McDonald case haven’t been charged, Alvarez said the federal investigation continues and there could be charges in the future.

“There are charges such as lying to a federal agent, obstruction of justice, that are still out there and I cannot talk any further on that,” Alvarez said.

Alvarez, who has repeatedly defended her decision to charge Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke with murder just days before the McDonald shooting video was released, was the first to address the McDonald case in her opening statements.

“For anyone to suggest that me, as a mother of four children would look at a video of a young man being murdered and do nothing is just the absolute untruth,” Alvarez said.

More asked why Alvarez didn’t charge Van Dyke sooner after watching the video.

“I think we all know that Anita Alvarez was involved in a cover-up and the only time she ran faster than in her commercials was when she ran to court to file charges against the officers before the judge released the videotape,” More said.

While Foxx spoke of her support for special prosecutors to deal with police-involved shootings, Alvarez said she’s charged 96 Chicago Police officers as the state’s attorney. She called special prosecution of those cases “impractical,” and expensive.

More attacked Alvarez’s leadership abilities and what she called Foxx’s lack of trial experience.

“This office is about truth and it’s about facts. You have to have experience and leadership to lead the office. What we’ve learned is that 29 years of experience doesn’t mean you have leadership abilities to do that. And what we’ve also learned is that one jury trial and not practicing law for the past 2 1/2 years, doesn’t give you the experience either,” More said, referring to Foxx.

More’s comments also prompted Alvarez to point the finger at Foxx for violating campaign finance laws. The Illinois State Board of Elections ruled earlier this month that Foxx’s campaign should have disclosed a $25,000 poll that Preckwinkle paid for last year to help nudge her into the race. The board ordered the Friends for Foxx campaign committee to amend its disclosure filings to reflect the “in kind” contribution from Preckwinkle’s political fund. Shortly after the board ruling, the Foxx campaign amended its reports.

“She has also been a liar, a proven liar about her experience. … She went overboard in exaggerating what her experience is and the very fact that she would use the video of a young man being murdered in a political commercial shows extreme lack of judgment,” Alvarez said.

More, who has largely self-funded her campaign, has painted herself as an independent who doesn’t have to answer to other politicians or her contributors.

“If you make your decisions based on politics instead of the evidence, you will always get a bad decision. You have to prosecute crime as state’s attorney no matter who commits it. Ms. Alvarez has a history of not charging police officers with obstruction or perjury,” More said.

Alvarez defended her record: “I have never made any decision based on politics, ever. I make my decisions based on the facts and the evidence involved. … I will always charge an officers if he is caught lying. I will always charge an officer for excessive force and that’s what I do.”

Foxx said her work “predates” Preckwinkle’s support and said she pledges to serve the public, not politicians.

But More said Foxx wouldn’t be in the election without her former boss: “Ms. Preckwinkle has raised almost every dime in the Kim Foxx campaign fund and has used her extensive clout to get endorsements for Ms. Fox. Ms. Preckwinkle wants to control the justice system. She controls the budget. She appoints the public defenders and now she wants to anoint a state’s attorney. That is not acceptable.”