It’s been more than a quarter of a century since a Republican has been elected to Cook County’s top prosecutor’s seat, but former Circuit Court Judge Pat O’Brien said Thursday that he intends to be the next one.
After cruising through the GOP primary Tuesday, O’Brien outlined his plans to beat incumbent Democrat Kim Foxx in a live-streamed news conference, thanking his family, friends and “everyone who voted against Kim Foxx.”
“We really have to clean up the mess that she’s made,” O’Brien said, not even a minute into his remarks. “I think we have to restore justice to the community. We have to make it safer for people in all of the kinds of activities that they do, and we have to remember that the state’s attorney’s duty is to protect the victims of crime.”
The last Republican to lead the office was Jack O’Malley, who ousted Democrat Cecil Partee in 1990 and won re-election two years later. Once considered a rising star in the GOP, O’Malley lost the office to Democrat Richard “Dick” Devine in 1996. Before O’Malley, Republican Bernard Carey ran the office from 1972 to 1980.
O’Brien is no lifelong Republican. He was elected judge as a Democrat in 2006. He says he is looking for votes from Democrats and Republicans alike, arguing that right now the county needs a “professional and not a politician” in the prosecutor’s office.
“This is a unique office,” O’Brien said. “It’s not as if each party gets a state’s attorney. There’s one state’s attorney, there’s one state’s attorney whether you’re living in the city or the suburbs. … We’re at a time period where we’re kind of tilting whether we’re going to become more lawless or hopefully try to regain the streets so that people that obey the law can feel safe.”
O’Brien won his primary easily, receiving 73% of the vote to Christopher Pfannkuche’s 27% with about 98% of precincts reporting. He sought to portray Foxx as lacking “the integrity and judgment and the experience to run this office” and someone who’s “controlled by Chairman [Toni] Preckwinkle and the Democratic Party.”
Similar attacks didn’t work for Foxx’s three Democratic challengers Tuesday. The freshman prosecutor beat back former prosecutors Bill Conway, Donna More and former 2nd Ward Ald. Bob Fioretti, garnering a little over 50% of the vote, a slim majority.
O’Brien said he’s taken a hard look at the state’s attorneys office, and while he sees Foxx’s handling of the Jussie Smollett case as “a violation of oath and a lack of integrity” he said the office is “under producing in other areas.”
The former judge said that under Foxx’s administration, fewer than 200 jury trials have been held in 15 felony courtrooms, which works out to less than four trials per courtroom each year. He said that from the 1980s until the first decade of this century that number was much higher. He also said Foxx has “lost more trials and gun cases than she’s won in each of the three years” and called for quicker trials.
A state’s attorney spokeswoman was not immediately available for comment on the matter because “we are currently managing this public health crisis as it relates to court proceedings in Cook County.”
Cook County Republican Chairman Sean Morrison said the party is lining up behind O’Brien and will try to help him raise money to do whatever it can to oust Foxx.
“I’m excited for Pat O’Brien, I think that we had two really quality, experienced prosecutors that ran on the Republican side, and he won by a sizeable margin and is well equipped to execute a campaign against Kim Foxx.”
O’Brien is “well suited” for a campaign against Foxx because of his experience as a former senior prosecutor and judge, background that O’Brien will have to articulate well over the next few months, Morrison said.
“He wants to be a prosecutor that actually prosecutes, that takes a hard look at corruption in Cook County,” Morrison said. “Those are good signs. … He’s got a really decent chance.”