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Laura Washington: Did a dog whistle blow in state's attorney's race?

The Cook County Democratic Party last week endorsed Kimberly Foxx in the State's Attorney race. File photo by M. Spencer Green, AP.

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They call it “dog whistle politics.”

Wikipedia calls it “political messaging employing coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population, but has an additional, different or more specific resonance for a targeted subgroup.”

Did that dog whistle blow last week in the heated Democratic primary for Cook County State’s Attorney?


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Kimberly Foxx, former chief of staff to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, and Donna More, a private attorney, are challenging the embattled incumbent, Anita Alvarez.

A few months ago, that March 15 primary contest was looking like a sleeper.

Then, the Laquan McDonald hurricane hit.

Alvarez is in the eye of the storm over police and prosecutorial misconduct, excoriated for her long-delayed prosecution of Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke for shooting McDonald to death in October 2014.

On Thursday morning the Cook County Democratic Party convened to reconsider its earlier decision to stay neutral in the race. Last summer, committeemen representing Chicago wards and suburban communities, had declined to endorse.

Thursday morning, they heard 5-minute presentations from Foxx and More. Alvarez did not attend.

The McDonald saga and other scandals shows “our criminal justice system has been broken,” is plagued by “ineffectiveness and chaos,” and needs a “transformation,” she told the committeemen. Her professional credentials and experience growing up in the Cabrini Green housing development make her the right person to transform a system that is doing injustice to people or color and the poor, she said.

More asked the committeemen to remain neutral and “let the voters decide.”

“Nothing has changed,” she said. “Anita Alvarez still lacks judgment. McDonald is another exclamation point.”

And “Kim Foxx still lacks the felony trial experience and the managerial skills to oversee and get the respect of 900 prosecutors.”

She asked the committeemen: “Do we slate Kim Foxx, who has negligible experience trying felony cases…. Given today’s environment do we want to have somebody in charge of the office and set standards for the prosecutors, with that lack of experience?”

Foxx is African American. More is white.

Did I hear that whistle blow?

The party endorsed Foxx. I asked her to respond More’s charges.

From 2001 to 2013, Foxx said, she served for 12 years as an assistant state’s attorney, including five years as a supervisor, where “I managed dozens of attorneys,” she said.

“I’ve tried literally hundreds of cases, everything from murder to rape to drug possession and gun cases.”

Hundreds of felony cases, I asked. “Hundreds of felony cases,” Foxx answered.

Foxx added that as Preckwinkle’s chief of staff, she oversaw a 23,000-employee office with a $4 billion budget.

“So the suggestion that somehow, for someone like me to be able to be a chief of staff at this level, somehow is not qualified, I think one would have to question the motivation for saying that about this particular other candidate.”

I asked: Are you implying that it is because you are an African-American woman?

“If I were someone else who had this level of experience,” Foxx replied, “the suggestion would not be that I was not competent or qualified.”

According to her LinkedIn page, More was an assistant U.S. Attorney for one year, and a county prosecutor for five years, in the 1980s. In 1990 she was named chief legal counsel to the Illinois Gaming Board. For the last 20 years, she has been an attorney in private practice, representing the gaming industry.

Did that whistle blow? Who is qualified?

Let the voters decide.


Follow Laura Washington on Twitter: Follow @MediaDervish