While the Democratic candidates are beating each other up in the primary, the lone Republican candidate for Cook County State’s Attorney is waiting rested and unbruised for the general election.
Attorney Christopher Pfannkuche spent 31 years as a Cook County prosecutor, his last four under Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.
“I was one of those prosecutors who wanted to be a career prosecutor,” Pfannkuche said. “But the last four years…I watched our office begin to change, the atmosphere changed, her priorities changed the priorities of the office. The office lost the direction that it should have been on.”
Pfannkuche said he is looking to unseat his former boss because people have lost faith in Cook County’s justice system.
“They’ve lost trust in the criminal justice system, and that is disastrous for an office like ours, [which] is there to represent the people of Cook County,” he said.
While he is very critical of the incumbent Alvarez, in many ways Pfannkuche sounds a lot like her Democratic challengers.
In an interview with WBEZ, he even echoed Democratic candidate Kim Foxx’s line that Cook is “a county in crisis.”
And he was equally critical of Alvarez’s handling of the police shooting of LaQuan McDonald. Alvarez has faced intense criticism, and calls for her to resign because it took her more than a year to charge Chicago officer Jason Van Dyke with murder.
Pfannkuche said he understands Alvarez had to wait for the city’s Independent Police Review Authority, or IPRA, to conclude its investigation into the teenager’s 2014 death. But he said that’s no excuse.
“I did not hear Anita Alvarez complaining that it was taking IPRA months to conduct that investigation. She should have been out there complaining, advocating for the citizens of Cook County … She didn’t do that, she just sat there and waited. And that’s the problem, she’s reactive not proactive,” Pfannkuche said.
In a debate on WBEZ, Alvarez said she did nothing wrong in the McDonald case.
“That was a thorough and complete and meticulous investigation,” Alvarez said.
As for how he would handle police shootings going forward, Pfannkuche said he would have a special division within his office, that would not deal with any other cases to avoid any conflicts of interest.
“So their sole focus and sole cases that they handle are police-involved shootings. And those assistants should be answerable directly to me. As such they would be independent in the confines of the state’s attorney’s office.”
That is the same position staked out by Democratic challenger Donna More. And Loyola University professor of criminal justice Don Stemen said it’s a model that works.
“The bolstering of an internal unit to address things like, not just police shootings but police misconduct … that’s worked well in other jurisdictions that have had problems with police shootings and police misconduct,” Stemen said.
Pfannkuche said his campaign will ramp up once the primary is over and he knows his opponent.
Despite all the attention on the Democratic candidates, the Northwest Side Republican believes he has a good shot of winning the general election.
“The one thing that most people forget is that this is probably the one single county office that regularly swings Republican,” Pfannkuche said. “This is something that’s actually very doable. And I think the reason for that is, people look at the state’s attorney office, not as a political office. They look upon the candidates for state’s attorney as who can do the best job to keep the streets safe.”
Pfannkuche said he has had several meetings with Illinois Republican leaders, and is getting party support. But so far he is the only one who has given money to his campaign, including $25,000 in loans.
Patrick Smith is a WBEZ producer and reporter. Follow him @pksmid.