The knockout defeat of Cook County, Illinois’s State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez sends a strong message to prosecutors across the country: You will be held accountable if you don’t charge police officers who abuse their authority.
Alvarez was defeated by Kim Foxx, a former assistant state’s attorney who was endorsed by the county’s powerful Democratic Party and benefited from a grassroots movement to oust the two-term incumbent. Her victory in the primary virtually guarantees her election in November. If elected, she will be the first African-American woman to hold this position.
Tuesday’s race in a city in the throes of a police scandal was viewed by many as a referendum on police misconduct, particularly officer-involved shootings of low-income people and people of color. The contest captured national attention and attracted hundreds of thousands of dollars from out-of-state donors, including billionaire philanthropist George Soros, who contributed $333,000 to a PAC that backed Foxx.
Alvarez, who oversees the second-largest prosecutor’s office in the country, came under fire for the way she handled high-profile officer-involved shootings, especially two. She waited almost two years to charge Dante Servin for the fatal shooting of 22-year-old Rekia Boyd in 2012. Servin was the first Chicago cop in 20 years to be prosecuted for killing a civilian. A judge later threw out the case, saying that Alvarez had mishandled it. Alvarez was also criticized for waiting 13 months to charge a white police officer for shooting African-American teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times in 2014.
She wasn’t the only prosecutor at the center of a police scandal who was rejected by voters on Tuesday. In Ohio, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty lost his reelection bid in the Democratic primary. McGinty was criticized for not charging two Cleveland police officers in the fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in 2014.
In the contest against Alvarez, Foxx took in about 58 percent of the county vote, Alvarez had 29 percent of the vote, and challenger Donna More had 13 percent. Foxx carried Chicago with about 62 percent of the vote, drawing broad support across racial and class lines.
She won all 18 of the city’s majority black wards, five of the 13 majority Latino wards, and 11 of the 15 majority white wards, including the North Side neighborhoods that are home to the city’s so-called lakefront liberals.
“It wasn’t close, but a real sweep,” said Dick Simpson, professor of political science at University of Illinois at Chicago.