Voters ousted the Chicago area’s top prosecutor Tuesday, backing Democratic primary challenger Kim Foxx in a campaign dominated by questions about Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s handling of the shooting death of a black teenager at the hands of a white police officer.
Foxx, a onetime chief of staff to the county board president, was among the strongest critics of Alvarez over the Laquan McDonald shooting. The teenager was shot 16 times in 2014, an incident captured on squad-car video. Alvarez charged the officer with murder, but not until November, more than a year after the incident and after a judge ordered city officials to release the tape publicly.
The video sparked near daily protests, with activists who called the investigation a “cover up” showing up to Alvarez’s office, home and public appearances. It put Alvarez on the defensive, who explained the yearlong investigation by calling it complex and meticulous.
Foxx, who worked in the juvenile division of the office, campaigned on reforms such as working with community groups and data-based decision making. She said her win was a clear sign voters were ready for change, with the handling of the McDonald case as one issue troubling the office.
“It’s not just one case, it’s time to turn the page,” Foxx told The Associated Press. “We are turning the page on a chapter in our history where we can begin to look forward and transform our criminal justice system.”
Alvarez thanked employees, saying she was proud of their work. She urged any successor to continue fighting against gun violence and continue programs for alternative prosecution and sentencing pushed during her tenure.
“I have been criticized that I wasn’t a very good politician and that’s probably right. And that’s probably why I stand here before you tonight,” she told supporters. “But I am very damn proud of the fact that I am a good prosecutor.”
Challenger Donna More finished third. Foxx moves to a November matchup against Republican Christopher Pfannkuche, whose primary was uncontested.
Foxx had establishment backing, winning an endorsement from Cook County Democrats who had initially decided to stay neutral. The reversal raised eyebrows about her connections to top Democrats, including Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
During the election Foxx was also hit with about $20,000 in fines from election officials, including for failing to report a campaign poll paid for by Preckwinkle. Foxx, who intends to appeal the fines, dismissed the criticism by saying the endorsement or links wouldn’t prevent her from making tough decisions.
Still, the McDonald case was on voters’ minds.
Sheri Scott, 44, a customer service worker, voted for Foxx. The Chicago mother of three was bothered by the time it took Alvarez to bring charges against officer Jason Van Dyke, who has pleaded not guilty.
“It’s insane, it really is,” Scott said.
One former Alvarez supporter said it swayed her.
Julie Siegel, 60, of Evanston, voted for Alvarez previously, but on Tuesday cast a ballot for Foxx, saying she was affected by her not bringing charges quickly.
“Race issues need to be more front and center,” the landscape designer said.
Associated Press writers Don Babwin and Michael Tarm contributed to this report.