The Jussie Smollett controversy, Bill Conway’s family fortune, and the law enforcement’s mistrust were threatening factors to Foxx’s chance at re-election for the 2020 Illinois Primary. Despite these disadvantages, she prevailed over three other candidates, Donna More, Bob Fioretti, and Bill Conway.
The attack ads, polls, campaign forums, and other hopeful strategies behind each candidate have subsided for the Cook County State’s Attorney election. For Foxx, this year’s election would be an uphill battle, and far more challenging than in 2016.
It’s important to address the problem that caused the lack of trust that many Cook County voters had for Kim Foxx in the first place: the Jussie Smollett case. Many criticize Foxx’s subdued sentence for the Empire actor after staging a hate crime to stir racial tensions in January 2019. Donna More refers to the handling of it as ‘a sweetheart deal,’ and Conway has released an attack ad saying, ‘Kim Foxx rigged the rules for celebrities,’ tearing down the image of honesty in office.
Kim doesn’t shy away from the controversy when asked about it. “It’s in Bill Conway’s interest to focus on one case because it did garner a lot of attention; there were a lot of questions. As I’ve said before, and I will say again, we didn’t handle it well,” she calmly acknowledged. “It told the public about how we do our work. I should be held to account for that. But that is one case out of literally thousands of cases every year in our office. I will answer for that one case, but also talk about the fact that while everyone was focused on that case, we put the killers of 9-year-old, Tyshawn Lee, behind bars.”
How did she secure trust with her voters after this controversy? It took a victorious combination of wide-scale political endorsements, legislative work for the legalization of marijuana in the state of Illinois, allowing felony data to be transparent to the public, and most importantly, her push to dismantle mass incarceration and racism behind bars.
Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Lori Lightfoot were some of the politicians that threw their weight behind Foxx for this election, which was a nod to their supporters all over Cook County. When well-known leaders that many Democrats trust, like Warren and Sanders, gave Foxx their seal of approval, it countervailed the negative ads and articles circulating distrust and dishonesty.
The Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice is an advocacy program that archives data and looks to pinpoint barriers in courts all over Cook County. A member of the Chicago Council of Lawyers from the organization shared insight over the change in office before and during Foxx, as well as the shifting statistics that resulted from it.
“1,063 black and latino people were sentenced to prison every month in 2012. After prosecutions voted out the administration, in 2019, the average was down by 706,” he stated. “The bottom line is that the report says, and I’ll quote, ‘the decline has partially resulted from the current State’s Attorney’s office moving away from a culture that rewards mass incarceration to one that values rehabilitation and justice.’”
Beyond the statistics, endorsements, and other adjustments, there were still echoes of Jussie Smollett and the question of Foxx’s integrity, not just from politicians, but from voters. At a public forum held by candidate Donna More, many attendees voiced their fear of rising crime rates in areas such as Clark and Division. Some attendees expressed concern and even frustration over the current office, and their lack of trust due to the Jussie Smollett case.
“She is, in my opinion, making decisions not by law, but as a social service agency. That is not acceptable,” said More. “I don’t have a billionaire dad. I don’t have the machine supporting me because they don’t like that I’m qualified. So, I need your support; I need grassroots support. I need the ability of voters to say, ‘you know what? We’re not going to be stuck in this Stockholm Syndrome.”
Members of the CADC (Clark and Division Collaborative) attended the forum, concerned over shoplifting and crime rates in their area.
Many police officers and members of law enforcement have an unstable relationship with Kim Foxx after the Jussie Smollet case as well. A Sun Times article from July cites a letter written by FOP President Kevin Graham, VPs Pat Murray and Martin Preib, “A deep mistrust now exists between your office and ours. We no longer believe that your office will treat our members fairly either in the arrests they make or when they are victims of crimes.”
Despite these obstacles resulting from the Jussie Smollett case, Foxx’s work on dismantling mass incarceration in Cook County, marijuana legalization to rid the county of criminalizing citizens for non-violent drug use, and endorsements that overturned the public’s perspective of her, Kim Foxx was able to claim victory for the 2020 Illinois Primary once again.