With just five days until Election Day and voters distracted by the coronavirus, the four candidates for Cook County state’s attorney met Thursday evening for a raucous, freewheeling television debate that at times seemed more like a WWE wrestling bout.
Incumbent Kim Foxx took her share of verbal body slams over Jussie Smollett and other familiar topics, but her three Democratic Primary rivals seemed just as intent on putting one another in headlocks.
In one particularly heated exchange, former prosecutors Donna More and Bill Conway mixed it up after More insisted Conway hadn’t handled any felony cases.
“What are you talking about? You haven’t been in the State’s Attorney’s Office for 30 years now,” Conway fired back.
When asked whether he’d tried violent crime cases, Conway emphatically replied “yes” at least eight times while More tried to talk.
Former 2nd Ward Ald. Bob Fioretti chimed in, urging his opponents to “take a deep breath.”
Conway took his own shots, blasting Fioretti as a perennial candidate and More for representing gambling interests in private practice.
The four Democratic candidates talked over each other, trading barbs fast and loose, at times yelling to get their points heard over one another.
Afterward, Foxx sought to cast herself as taking the high road and chiding her opponents for “the way that they behaved today” — even as she doubled down on her criticism of Conway.
“Anyone can put millions of dollars on TV and create an image for themselves but you saw the real Bill Conway tonight — not ready to lead the prosecutor’s office, not ready to lead,” Foxx said.
During the 30-minute debate on WTTW-TV, Foxx sought to downplay her handling of the Smollett case, saying “the attention on a non-violent, low level offense for almost a year dominating the conversation when — not to say that people shouldn’t care about it — but the attention of millions of dollars that have gone behind trying to keep this at the forefront, while not addressing any other issues of our criminal justice system seems disingenuous.”
More pounced on that.
“I think that what the issue is, is that the case was indicted, 16 counts, three weeks later it’s dropped and we never heard from Kim Foxx about why the case was dropped,” More said.
She urged Foxx to “tell us why the case was dropped, just plain and simple, right here on ‘Chicago Tonight’ tell us why the case was dropped.”
Foxx didn’t say.
Conway said “you can’t have a two tier for the whole justice system.”
Though they hit on the usual topics there was little substance or talk of a vision for the office during the forum.
Fioretti targeted Foxx for the murders the city has seen so far this year, blaming what he calls Foxx’s “catch-and-release program” for the violence.
And Conway was dinged for taking millions of dollars from his father, the billionaire co-founder of the Carlyle Group William Conway Jr.
The younger Conway said his opponents have “tried to attack my dad, they tried to attack my military record, they tried to attack my client Candace Clark.”
Fioretti knocked Conway for his “ambulance chasing of [Clark].”
Clark was also charged with disorderly conduct in a case that drew comparisons to Smollett’s because Clark’s case was handled differently than the former “Empire” actor’s.
Conway hit back.
“You know what Bob, you know what you were doing at that time?” Conway asked. “You were losing elections.
“You know what you were doing?” Conway asked More. “You were sitting there taking care of your gaming interests.
“You were giving out unequal justice,” he said to Foxx.
Asked later about his plans for the office if elected, since the debate was short on visions for the future, Conway said he’d work with treatment facilities, reorient the office’s gun crimes strategy unit and create a whistleblower hotline.
For More, the election is about a “crossroads.”
“I think we are at a crossroads in this election, and the crossroads is are we the people and voters of the county going to allow our election to be bought?” More asked at a post-forum press conference. “Are we going to allow the power of indictment to be bought by a political machine … or by a guy who doesn’t have the credentials, but his daddy has $12 million so far invested in this race?”
At her news conference, Foxx wagged her finger at her rivals.
“What we saw today was, I think, a disappointment for people who want to get to the heart of what this race is about,” Foxx said. “I want the voters of Cook County who watched this to stay encouraged, to come out to vote, early vote if they have concerns about the coronavirus or the like, but this race is far too important for petty squabbles and the display that you saw today.”