clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Three Cook County state’s attorney rivals agree much needs to change — but part ways on what and how

Republican Pat O’Brien argues that Democratic incumbent Kim Foxx has increased crime and fear. She counters that O’Brien is in lockstep with President Donald Trump. Libertarian Brian Dennehy refrains from attacks, just saying he “would do a better job than they would.”

Republican state’s attorney candidate Pat O’Brien (from left), Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and Libertarian candidate Brian Dennehy.
Republican state’s attorney candidate Pat O’Brien, left, earlier this month; Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, center, in August; Libertarian candidate Brian Dennehy, right, in June.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file; Facebook.

Four years after she routed Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez in the Democratic primary, Kim Foxx is locked in a reelection battle of her own, fending off a vocal Republican opponent who says the events of her tenure would “surprise and astonish” any other prosecutor.

Foxx casts Republican Pat O’Brien as a Cook County version of Donald Trump — and a source of many of the problems she’s focused on fixing the past four years.

In her fight for a second term, Foxx faces the former Cook County judge and also Libertarian candidate Brian Dennehy.

O’Brien and Foxx have traded barbs in editorial board meetings. She’s knocked him for a “history of wrongful convictions,” and he’s needled her for her handling of former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett’s case and a tenure he says has only led to “more crime and more fear.”

Dennehy steers clear of attacks on his major party rivals, saying he is running because “things are going wrong in the country, and there’s a lot of polarization around race and criminal justice reform.”

Foxx rode in on the #ByeAnita wave that swept out Alvarez in the aftermath of the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.

The Flossmoor Democrat points to her work on criminal justice reform since taking office as reason enough for a second term.

“What I know for sure is that over the first three years of my tenure, before we got to 2019, as we worked on criminal justice reform, violent crime in the city of Chicago had continued to go down year over year over year,” Foxx said.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx during a campaign stop in Pilsen last year.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx during a campaign stop in Pilsen in March.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

The “unacceptable, horrible levels” of violence the city and county — and nation — are currently experiencing are the result of “extraordinary times,” she said.

“That is not the result of addressing the systemic issues,” Foxx said. “It is the result of being in really extraordinary times with a global pandemic, a financial collapse and civil unrest threats related to racial injustice. And so, there’s work that we’re going to have to do, but history dictates that we have been able to do both at the same time — address public safety and criminal justice.”

She says O’Brien is an example of the work she’s had to undo, pointing to his time as a prosecutor in charge of the criminal prosecutions bureau where he “oversaw at least 27 cases where people were convicted and those convictions were later exonerated.”

The county’s top prosecutor has also accused the former judge of “Trump-like name calling and fear mongering” and she’s refused to debate him because of that rhetoric.

O’Brien said Foxx has a history of “doing the kinds of things that would surprise and astonish every other prosecutor, and every other state’s attorney, that I’ve ever had contact with.

Cook County State’s Attorney candidate Pat O’Brien speaks during a news conference in the North Austin neighborhood earlier this month.
Cook County State’s Attorney candidate Pat O’Brien speaks during a news conference in the North Austin neighborhood earlier this month.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

“Just the idea of how many cases she doesn’t approve for charges, how many cases, once they’re approved, she dismisses, her record on trying cases, I mean all of that is … those stand out as being activities and a lack of activity that’s been unmatched,” O’Brien said, adding that he hadn’t looked closely yet at New York or Los Angeles.

If O’Brien beats Foxx, the Edgewater neighborhood resident said he’d balance digging into “crime and its roots” since there’s much more to crime than prosecution, he said.

In his campaign to unseat Foxx, O’Brien received the endorsement of the city’s Fraternal Order of Police and a $57,800 donation — the maximum legal donation — from the group.

Foxx argues O’Brien wouldn’t be able to stand on his own, saying the police union had “found a candidate that has been aligned with their values and their beliefs.”

“I think that where he’s getting his support tells you where his values lie,” Foxx said.

In an endorsement interview with the Sun-Times Editorial Board last month, O’Brien said the donation doesn’t make him “somehow beholden to them” and turned the problem back on Foxx, saying “ask Ms. Foxx about Ed Burke, Martin Sandoval, Commonwealth Edison ... They’ve been investigated, and, in some cases, charged by the FBI.”

Foxx kept nearly $30,000 in campaign contributions from a 2016 fundraiser hosted by now-indicted 14th Ward Ald. Edward Burke — a departure from the approach taken by her political mentor, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

Foxx said O’Brien has “aligned with the mission and the vision and the values of Donald Trump” and others who’ve used the city as a “political punching bag.”

“It should trouble all of us as the person who is running for state’s attorney right now feels that that is where he is aligned — with this Republican Party under Donald Trump,” Foxx said.

 Libertarian candidate for Cook County state’s attorney Brian Dennehy in September.
Libertarian candidate for Cook County state’s attorney Brian Dennehy in September.
From Facebook.

The Libertarian disagrees with how his opponents have characterized each other. He doesn’t think Foxx is “incompetent” and says O’Brien “was a fair and honest judge.”

“My position is that I would do a better job than they would,” Dennehy said.

The Uptown resident pledges to end the office’s participation in the “war on drugs.”

“My focus is strictly on violent crimes, crimes where someone has harmed another person or is at an imminent risk of harming another person. Those are the people who should be prosecuted, and those are the people who should be put in a cage and held in cages. Other, non-violent crimes … I don’t really see how the police or the prosecutor’s office should have anything to do with them really.”