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Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx Withdraws from Upcoming Debate, Citing Opponent’s “Trump-like” Conduct

Overview of Cook County State

Incumbent Cook County State’s Attorney Kimberly M. Foxx has opted out of an upcoming debate in the Cook County state’s attorney’s race, accusing rival Patrick W. O’Brien of resorting to “Trump-like name calling and fear mongering” during past editorial board interviews. The debate in question, scheduled for mid-October and hosted by ABC7 and other groups, was called off late last month. Foxx’s spokeswoman Alex Sims said in a statement that Foxx will not sit on stage with O’Brien at all as she campaigns for reelection as Cook County’s top prosecutor, citing O’Brien’s hostile and argumentative behavior during these interviews. So far during the Cook County state’s attorney’s race, the candidates have appeared together, virtually, on three occasions, before the Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Daily Herald editorial boards.  

O’Brien’s Debate Tactics Akin to Trump’s During Presidential Debate

As justification for Kim Foxx’s decision to decline the invitation to take part in the upcoming debate with Pat O’Brien, Sims points to the chaos of the first debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential race. “Voters deserve to hear Mr. O’Brien’s platform,” Sims wrote in a statement. “However, we learned during the recent Ed board interviews, that the State’s Attorney participated in with Mr. O’Brien, that he will instead use the time for Trump-like name calling and fear mongering. During this nationwide crisis, she will not sit across the stage from a Republican that exploits tragedy to win a campaign. We had plenty of that [during the presidential debate]. Voters deserve better.”

Foxx, O’Brien Argue About Combatting Violent Crime

During last month’s heated debate before representatives of the Daily Herald editorial board, Foxx and O’Brien squared off against one another, each challenging the other’s record on tackling violent crime. “There has been a dramatic rise in violent crime across the country,” said Foxx, who linked the upturn in crime in part to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent financial crisis, as well as the wave of civil unrest spreading across the country in the wake of Breonna Taylor’s fatal shooting by police. However, Foxx sees the rise in violence as “an outlier,” stating that “violent crime went down in Cook County year after year over the first three years of this administration.” O’Brien challenged Foxx’s record, claiming that her policies “have driven violent crime to the level it’s at.”

“This is violence that has spread beyond the borders of the city,” said O’Brien during the debate. “We need to have someone who effectively wants criminals to be prosecuted and where it’s appropriate to be placed in jail because of their violent crimes.” When Foxx ran for Cook County State’s Attorney, she vowed to make prosecuting violent criminals a top priority, but she also understands that a prosecutor’s job is not simply to collect convictions, but to fight for real justice and advocate for community safety. Violence remains a major problem in Chicago, which is on track to see its highest annual homicide count in more than two decades, with 606 homicides reported so far this year. But Foxx maintains that the solution to reducing violent crime involves working alongside Chicago police, federal authorities, the mayor and others.

“When we have a homicide clearance rate as low as we have now, when people live in neighborhoods where they feel others can kill or cause harm with impunity, they don’t have faith,” Foxx said during a meeting with the Sun-Times editorial board. “The way we do that is we fix the things that have been broken. We show ourselves to be a good partner, so people are willing to work and engage with us.” For his part, O’Brien has repeatedly criticized Foxx’s continued emphasis on criminal justice reform, namely her stance on reducing the incarceration of nonviolent offenders, calling her a “cheerleader for criminals” and a “champion for defendants,” and claiming that she is soft on violent crime. During the September 17 interview with the Daily Herald editorial board, O’Brien called Foxx “a social worker not a prosecutor” and claimed that Cook County needs a state’s attorney who “speaks for community safety and speaks for victims.”

O’Brien Uses “Divisive Rhetoric,” Foxx Claims

Foxx countered O’Brien’s claims, stating that her office secured more than 2,700 felony convictions during the first three years of her term. She also stated that the homicide rate in Cook County was higher during the early 1990s, when O’Brien was deputy chief of the state’s attorney criminal division. Foxx further criticized O’Brien’s debate tactics, calling his statements “divisive rhetoric” taken from the “Trump law-and-order playbook,” and claiming that his “prosecutorial ethic” resulted in at least 27 people being wrongfully convicted on his watch. “Mr. O’Brien dodges all questions about his record of 27 wrongful convictions while misleading the voters about how the state’s attorney’s office works,” said Sims in a statement. “We have no reason to believe that this behavior will change. Voters deserve more and are tired of these Trump-inspired Republican tactics.”

O’Brien Calls Foxx’s Refusal to Debate a “Disservice” to Cook County Voters

O’Brien condemned Foxx’s decision to bow out of the upcoming state’s attorney debate, calling it “a disservice to the people of Cook County.” He responded to the news in a statement, saying, “This campaign is one of the most important and high-profile races in the state. It is my belief that voters deserve to know the substantial differences between the candidates.” He went on to say, “I am ready and eager to debate Ms. Foxx on the record. After last night’s chaotic presidential debate, the voters of Cook County want and deserve nothing less than a real debate on the issues.” When asked to respond to Foxx’s accusation about O’Brien’s “Trump-like” debate tactics, spokesman Brad Goodman said, “Ms. Foxx doesn’t want to debate Judge O’Brien because he has successfully and publicly exposed her failures when it comes to prosecuting violent crime and her role in the Jussie Smollett case.”

Foxx’s Handling of the Jussie Smollett Case

The Jussie Smollett case is an unfortunate blemish on Kim Foxx’s otherwise excellent record as a progressive prosecutor and a proponent of criminal justice reform focused on prosecuting violent criminals regardless of their connections. In January 2019, Jussie Smollett, an actor known for his role on the television show “Empire,” allegedly staged a racist and homophobic attack on himself in an attempt to boost his career and was charged with felony disorderly conduct for filing a false police report. In February 2019, Foxx removed herself from the case out of “an abundance of caution…based on familiarity with potential witnesses in the case,” and appointed her deputy, Joseph Magats, to oversee the investigation. The following month, her office dropped all charges against Smollett, saying that the actor was not a threat to public safety.

In June 2019, special prosecutor Dan Webb was appointed to conduct an independent investigation into how the state’s attorney’s office handled the Smollett case. Webb concluded that Foxx had made several false or misleading public statements, including statements about removing herself from the case. Webb also concluded that the state’s attorney’s office committed “substantial abuses of discretion and operational failures” in dismissing the charges against Smollett. In February 2020, a Cook County grand jury indicted Smollett on charges of making false reports to police. Kim Foxx faced considerable backlash over her handling of the Jussie Smollett case, though she was officially cleared of any criminal wrongdoing.

About Kimberly M. Foxx

When Kimberly Foxx took office in December 2016, she became the first African-American woman to lead the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, the second largest prosecutor’s office in the United States. A former Assistant State’s Attorney and chief of staff for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Foxx ran for Cook County State’s Attorney on a platform of criminal justice reform, promising to make the State’s Attorney’s Office fairer and its communities safer by prioritizing the prosecution of violent criminals over low-level offenders. During her time in office, she has undertaken substantial criminal justice reforms focused on public safety and equity.

As a child, Foxx grew up in the notoriously dangerous Cabrini Green housing development in Chicago and was sexually assaulted by a relative at the age of five. Her family moved to a homeless shelter after her mother lost her job and she witnessed first-hand, family members, friends and neighbors suffer needlessly because of a broken criminal justice system. As state’s attorney, Foxx has a vision of taking a different approach to criminal justice and making the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office the most transparent prosecutor’s office in the country, a vision she brought to fruition by becoming the first and only prosecutor in the country to make records for felony cases available to the public.

Foxx Favored in General Election

Kim Foxx became Chicago’s top prosecutor by winning in a landslide victory over her tough-on-crime predecessor, Anita Alvarez, who faced intense scrutiny for her office’s handling of one of Chicago’s most high-profile cases, the fatal shooting of African-American teenager Laquan McDonald by a white police officer. And despite significant blowback stemming from the outcome of the Jussie Smollett case, Foxx won the Democratic primary in March, taking a major step toward being reelected in heavily Democratic Cook County in November. “Tonight, the voters have once again spoken and are calling us to continue our mandate of criminal justice reform,” Foxx said in her primary victory speech. “They are calling us to continue to make Cook County a model for our country. I pledge to keep pushing for that change.”

Kim Foxx – Cook County State’s Attorney

During her time as Cook County’s state’s attorney, Foxx’s progressive approach to criminal justice has helped lower the incarceration rate in Chicago, reducing prison admissions by nearly 20% in 2018. And while incarceration has long been viewed as a necessary tactic for deterring crime, statistics from the FBI show that violent crime in Chicago was down 8% during the same time period. Across the country, progressive prosecutors like Foxx are seeing real success in reducing incarceration rates without experiencing a corresponding uptick in crime, which proves that lower incarceration does not necessarily trigger higher crime rates, says a recent report from The People’s Lobby, Reclaim Chicago and the Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice. Nationwide, crimes rates have dropped dramatically since the early 1990s, but research shows that incarceration has not contributed to the decline.

In Chicago, Kim Foxx has transformed the city’s legal system by reducing prosecutions for low-level, non-violent crimes and directing more cases to alternative treatment programs as opposed to incarceration. “We can’t keep trying to scare people into believing that the solution to our ills is locking everybody up and we’ll all feel better and be safer,” Foxx said in support of the implementation of alternative treatment programs, community-based initiatives and prevention. However, because of her emphasis on decarceration and criminal justice reform, Foxx has faced considerable pushback from detractors who call her “soft on crime” and would seek to thwart the very reforms that have been producing measurable results, including Republican primary winner Pat O’Brien, a former Cook County prosecutor and circuit court judge, who she will face in the upcoming election. “Her enemies and those who have been against her from the moment she ran and won on a reform platform – they were waiting for a misstep,” says former federal prosecutor Jamila Hodge. “They were waiting for something they could use to come after her, [like the Jussie Smollett case], because they never wanted her in the position in the first place.”

Future Debates Between Foxx and O’Brien

Although Foxx has declined to debate O’Brien on ABC7, she has reportedly agreed to participate in a one-on-one interview with the TV station. Another debate between Foxx and O’Brien is scheduled for October 26, just one week before the November 3 election, but it is not yet known whether Foxx will attend the debate.

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