Mark Brown: Formerly homeless Preckwinkle aide Kim Foxx has the makings of a formidable candidate
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Kim Foxx, chief of staff to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, spent her childhood in the Cabrini-Green housing development as the daughter of an unwed teenage mother.
While living there, she was the victim of child sexual abuse.
Later, as a high school student, she endured six months of homelessness, during which her mother attempted suicide.
As the 43-year-old former prosecutor contemplates whether to challenge Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez in the 2016 election, Foxx bristles at those who’d pigeonhole her as Preckwinkle’s pawn in a high-stakes power play.
She sees it as an insult to how hard she’s worked and to the sacrifices she and others have made to overcome the circumstances of her early life.
“It diminishes everything that my mother or grandmother or my community poured into me to sum me up as someone’s lackey or puppet,” Foxx said in an interview.
“I tell people all the time [who say], ‘Oh, you’re Toni’s person,’ and I say, ‘No, I’m Gennell’s daughter,’ because that’s who I am.”
Foxx told me she expects to decide whether to run within the next few weeks.
I’m expecting her to offer herself as a candidate with a more “holistic” approach to criminal justice than your usual get-tough-on-crime state’s attorney, someone who believes there is a more strategic approach to preventing crime than locking people up.
Even if she doesn’t run, I’m sure we’ll hear more from Foxx.
She has the makings of a formidable candidate — charisma, smarts, confidence and ambition. And whether she likes it or not, having Preckwinkle in her corner gives her credibility in political circles.
“I get it,” said Foxx. “For the person who has never been connected, it opens the door that people will meet with you because that’s who you are. But then that’s all you are. So that’s actually a little ironic to finally be somebody’s somebody, and you’re like, ‘Eeewwww.’ No offense to Toni, but I’m my own somebody.”
Foxx said she’s been contemplating a bid for state’s attorney since another elected county official approached her four years ago about entering the 2012 race. At the time, Foxx was an assistant state’s attorney under Alvarez, working as a supervisor in the juvenile division.
Foxx decided she wasn’t ready in part because of opposition from her mother, Gennell Wilson, a veteran city health department worker who feared it could cause her to lose her job.
Wilson, who died in 2012 from lung cancer, was “one of the smartest people I know,” Foxx said.
But her mother dropped out of high school when Foxx was born and thereafter pushed her daughter to achieve what she had not. That included going to college and becoming a lawyer, a goal Foxx embraced.
When Foxx was in third grade, Wilson moved her and her older brother out of Cabrini-Green to get them into a better school. Over the next 10 years, the family lived a nomadic existence, moving to seven North Side apartments before Foxx graduated from Lincoln Park High School.
It was when Foxx was a high school sophomore that the family became homeless after Wilson was suspended from her city job for getting into an altercation at work.
Her mother, long suffering from depression, tried to kill herself after months spent in shelters. Foxx, who’d gone to stay with her grandmother in a senior apartment building, came back to take care of Wilson.
Foxx went on to realize her mother’s dream by attending Southern Illinois University, where she stayed until she got that law degree. She’s still paying off the loans.
Her second job out of college was with the public guardian’s office, where she found “work that changed my life.”
Representing abused and neglected children, many who grew up in circumstances similar to hers, she found purpose.
Her work caught the attention of the juvenile division of the state’s attorney’s office, which recruited her.
Foxx later switched to handling delinquency cases, where she dealt with many of the same individuals who’d been abused when they were younger.
It’s that experience that informed her work with Preckwinkle on legislation that’s expected to greatly reduce the number of teenage defendants automatically transferred to adult court.
Foxx lives with her insurance-underwriter husband and their two daughters in the south suburbs.
It’s a long way from where she started. But she hasn’t forgotten how she got there.