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Kim Foxx talking in blue jacket with city logo partially displayed behind her

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx spoke to the City Club of Chicago on Tuesday.

Ashlee Rezin

Kim Foxx won’t seek a third term

After serving two terms marked by near-constant criticism of her policies and handling of high-profile cases, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx announced Tuesday she will not seek reelection.

“I leave now with my head held high, with my heart full,” Foxx said as she concluded a speech to the City Club of Chicago.

Foxx said she informed Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson of her decision Monday and called him “the man of the moment” whose election reminds her of her own first win in 2016.

“I told Mayor-elect Johnson as a Black man in leadership that his role would be very difficult,” Foxx said. “You have to keep going. But know what’s coming. His responsibility is to do the work with the full knowledge that it’s not going to be fair … but he has a job to do and elevate the voices of the people who put him there.”

The mayor-elect issued a statement saying that Foxx has been instrumental “in overturning nearly 200 wrongful convictions, expunging more than 15,000 cannabis crimes and bringing equity to a criminal justice system that has long disenfranchised people and communities of color.”

Chosen twice by voters to be the county’s top prosecutor by wide margins, Foxx was criticized over her office’s progressive policy choices and their perceived impact on crime in Chicago.

Those attacks came not only from conservatives and police, but also from outgoing Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot who faced a spike in shootings and murders during the pandemic.

Foxx has said being raised by a single mother while living in the Cabrini-Green public housing development helped shape her outlook as a prosecutor. During high school, Foxx said she was homeless for a time and frequently moved between homes.

Foxx worked in the public guardian’s office after college before being hired as an assistant state’s attorney. She went on to serve as chief of staff to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle before running for state’s attorney.

In 2016, Foxx became the first Black woman to lead the office after beating former State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez amid outrage over the fatal shooting of teenager Laquan McDonald by former Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke.

Kim Foxx and Toni Preckwinkle hug

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx hugs County Board President Toni Preckwinkle before speaking Tuesday to the City Club of Chicago.

Ashlee Rezin

Foxx promised a more strategic approach to fighting violent crime and was among the first wave of reform-minded prosecutors to be elected in big cities, including Philadelphia and later, San Francisco.

Foxx’s goals of focusing on violent crime prosecutions over lower-level felonies and misdemeanors led to her first major clash with police and widespread criticism of her decision-making with her handling of the Jussie Smollett case.

The rising young actor was charged with lying to police when he claimed to have been the victim of a homophobic and racist attack in January 2019 near his Streeterville apartment.

Foxx recused herself from the case the following month, her office saying she had “conversations with a family member of Jussie Smollett” and “facilitated a connection to the Chicago Police Department who were investigating the incident” before the actor was charged.

Her office dropped all charges against the actor in a deal that saw him forfeit his $10,000 bond to the city of Chicago (now a subject of the actor’s appeal of his conviction) — but did not require him to admit any wrongdoing.

Jussie Smollett walking out of courthouse

Flanked by family members, supporters, attorneys and bodyguards, ‘Empire’ star Jussie Smollett walks out of the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in December 2021.

Ashlee Rezin

The case dogged Foxx through her reelection campaign, particularly after a special prosecutor was appointed to review the decision by the state’s attorney’s office. The special prosecutor, former U.S. attorney Dan Webb, found no criminal conduct by Foxx but said the state’s attorney and her office committed “substantial abuses of discretion” in disposing of the case.

In her speech Tuesday, Foxx saved some of her most biting remarks for critics of her handling of the case and chastised the media for its coverage.

“They asked me over and over, ‘state’s attorney, do you have any regrets about the Class 4, nonviolent felony against a D-list actor,’” Foxx said sarcastically.

“I mean, I’m not here to judge where we put our priorities,” she said. “But the fact that I’ve been asked, and more ink has been spilled by editorial pages, newspapers, reporters, that … my obituary will mention Jussie Smollett makes me mad.”

Foxx handily beat her primary challengers, including former prosecutor Bill Conway, and in the general election easily defeated a tough-on-crime Republican challenger, former Circuit Judge Pat O’Brien.

O’Brien said Tuesday he was taken aback by Foxx’s decision.

“Having stood next to her at various forums back in 2020, I’ve always been impressed with her political abilities,” he said. “She enjoys the trappings of being state’s attorney. Who knows? Maybe there’s another job out there that has those particular kinds of perks that would make her want not to run on this. But to me, on the campaign trail, it’s something she seemed to relish.”

Dan Kirk served as chief of staff and top assistant to Alvarez, who was unseated by Foxx. Kirk said he anticipated Foxx would call it quits.

“She’s had quite a rough go because of a lot of unforced errors, to be honest,” Kirk told the Sun-Times. “A lot of stumbles that didn’t have to happen. It seems obvious to me that the job has just proven to be beyond her capabilities and not a job that’s well-suited for her.”

Richard Boykin

Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin listens during a special meeting for the presentation of the Executive Budget for the Fiscal Year 2018 on Oct. 5, 2017.

Ashlee Rezin

Former Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin noted Foxx served as state’s attorney during a tumultuous time that included the stay-at-home shutdown triggered by the pandemic, the civil unrest and looting after the murder of George Floyd and the surge in violent crime that followed both of those events.

“Today is a day to express our appreciation to Kim Foxx for her sacrifice and her service as state’s attorney,” he said. “These jobs are very difficult jobs. And in the current climate, it’s a very difficult climate with all of the violence. It’s raging in Cook County. People feel unsafe. I think she’s done what she can do. She’s contributed what she can, and she’s sacrificed her family in the same way during this period because it’s a big job.”

But James Murphy, a former assistant state’s attorney who publicly shared his scathing resignation letter last year, said the state’s attorney lacked leadership under her two terms. Murphy said Foxx regularly appeared to be more concerned about what her supporters in the criminal justice reform move thought than in being a voice for victims.

“I don’t think her tenure as a state attorney was a success. I don’t think she was able to balance the need for reform with supporting and fight for victims of crime,” Murphy said. “She never gave the resources to where they were needed, which was in the trenches.”

Attorney Josh Tepfer handles wrongful conviction cases for the University of Chicago Law School’s Exoneration Project. He was headed to the City Club on Tuesday with Clarissa Glenn — whose conviction for a drug arrest tainted by the involvement of corrupt Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts was one of many thrown out by Foxx’s office. That includes 17 cases tossed at a single 2017 hearing Tepfer said was the first “mass exoneration” in Cook County history.

Tepfer said his invitation to the luncheon came from Foxx’s office, a first. “There is still a lot of work to be done,” Tepfer said as he pulled up to Maggiano’s Little Italy for Tuesday’s luncheon.

Flint Taylor talking to reporters outside courthouse

Flint Taylor talks to reporters outside the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in October 2020. Behind him is Jackie Wilson, a torture survivor of late Chicago Police Department Cmdr. Jon Burge. Charges against Wilson were dropped amid his third trial in the fatal shooting of two Chicago police officers, after the discovery that an assistant in the Cook County state’s attorney’s office concealed a witness.

Pat Nabong

Attorney and activist Flint Taylor has battled the state’s attorney’s office over wrongful convictions and civil rights cases dating to his days as a lawyer for the Black Panthers and other counterculture groups in the 1960s. He said Tuesday that Foxx’s tenure included much-needed reforms to how prosecutors handled allegations of police misconduct and bond and charging decisions.

“I feel like she met a tremendous and unprecedented amount of resistance from the Fraternal Order of Police and CPD and faced a very adversarial culture within the State’s Attorney’s Office,” Taylor said Tuesday. “She had to fight that culture and all the lawyers on her staff who had defended so long the practices that led to wrongful convictions and mass incarceration. She took that on in good faith and made some good strides.”

That said, Taylor said he was not entirely surprised if Foxx tired of fighting those reform battles, especially when she was consistently bludgeoned by critics for her handling of the Smollett case.

“(Smollett) was a distraction, an excuse that a white supremacist power structure used against her, even though it didn’t amount to much in the grand scheme of the corruption around police misconduct and mass incarceration. But that was a sword her enemies used.”

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