By Erick Johnson
It was March 15, 2016. In Chicago’s Black community, it was judgement day for Anita Alvarez. Black voters everywhere were heading to the polls to seal the fate of the embattled Cook County State’s Attorney.
Frustrations with the county’s top prosecutor had come to a boil after many learned that Alvarez waited 13 months to charge Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke with first-degree murder. That was after activists forced a Cook County judge to release a video showing Van Dyke pumping 16 bullets into the body of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014.
Nearly five months after Van Dyke was charged with murder, Alvarez’s eight-year career was over. She lost all 19 predominantly Black wards.
Foxx, supported by the powerful Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, slayed her opponent, capturing a total of 63 percent of the vote among Chicago’s 50 wards. Foxx won 33 wards, including the city’s predominantly Black wards.
With the Jussie Smollett case still fresh in the news, it’s uncertain whether Foxx can win the same support among white voters in the upcoming election. Many are still angry after Foxx’s office dropped all 16 charges after the “Empire” actor allegedly staged a hate crime in Streeterville in 2019. Just as the McDonald case destroyed Alvarez’s career, the Smollett case threatens to send Foxx packing after March 17.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s race includes a chunk of Cook County where Foxx is particularly weak: white, affluent suburbs that make up half of the county’s three million voters.
Chicago’s Black electorate may be powerful, but it’s not enough to help Foxx keep her job.
At question is whether Latino voters will support her at the polls. One thing for sure is that many white voters didn’t like Foxx in 2016, and most likely won’t vote for her this time around.
The race is bound to be a battle along racial lines.
A closer look at Foxx’s 2016 performance showed her struggles to impress white voters in Chicago’s predominantly white wards and suburbs. Election data that the Crusader pulled raises serious concerns about the impact of the white vote on Foxx’s chances of winning a second term as Cook County’s first Black female top prosecutor.
According to data from the Chicago Board of Elections and Cook County Elections’ office, despite Alvarez’s damaged reputation, 14 non-Black Chicago wards and 14 predominantly white suburbs in Cook County still voted for her over Foxx.
Many of the Chicago wards that stuck with Alvarez were predominantly white. Some were predominantly Latino. Some wards were both predominantly white and Latino.
The ward where Foxx suffered her biggest loss was the 48th Ward, which includes the North Side neighborhoods of Edgewater, Andersonville and Uptown. In that ward, Alvarez won with nearly 55 percent of the vote to Foxx’s 27 percent. In the 38th Ward, Alvarez won nearly 50 percent of white voters, compared to Foxx’s 32 percent.
Out of Chicago’s 12 predominantly white wards, four voted for Alvarez and eight voted for Foxx. In many of those wards, Alvarez grabbed an impressive chunk of voters as a second-place candidate.
In the 39th Ward, which includes the North Park, Jefferson Park and Albany Park neighborhoods on the North Side, Alvarez grabbed 41 percent of the vote to Foxx’s 42 percent. Attorney Donna More, who is running in this year’s election, took 17.20 percent.
Perhaps Foxx’s biggest struggle is in many Cook County suburbs, where white and non-Black residents voted for Alvarez in 2016, despite her handling of the McDonald case.
According to data from the Cook County Elections office, at least 14 Cook County suburbs voted for Alvarez over Foxx in the 2016 election.
In Cicero, Alvarez won big over Foxx, taking over 59 percent of the vote to her opponent’s 28 percent. In the Stickney township, Foxx took only 31 percent of the vote to Alvarez’s 52.38 percent. Out of all the suburbs, Foxx performed the worst in suburban Lemont, where she won just 29 percent of the vote to Alvarez’s 53 percent. More finished third with over 17 percent.
In the northwest and western suburbs, Alvarez beat Foxx in Norwood Park, Berwyn, Elk Grove, Schaumburg and Hanover Park.
Even in the general election in November 2016, six Cook County suburbs voted for Republican candidate Christopher Pfannukuche over Foxx, including Barrington, Lemont, Orland Park and Palatine. Pfannkuche is running again in the Republican primary.
Overall in the Democratic primary in the suburbs, Foxx won 52 percent of the vote among voters in the Cook County suburbs. Alvarez came in second with 33 percent of the overall vote in the suburbs. More came in third overall with nearly 15 percent of the vote in the suburbs.
In Chicago, Foxx took 62 percent of the vote to Alvarez’s 26 percent and More’s 12 percent.
More has returned as a strong candidate in this year’s Democratic primary. In addition to being endorsed by the Chicago Tribune, More has been endorsed by the Chicago Daily Herald, the largest newspaper covering Cook County suburbs.
With two other white candidates in the race, there’s a chance that the white vote could be split, making Foxx’s path to victory easier.
There is concern about Black voter turnout, which like other ethnic groups, is traditionally very low during the Democratic primary. On February 28, weeks after Smollett was charged with six new counts for his alleged hoax, Preckwinkle and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot stumped for Foxx at a get-out-the-vote rally in the West Loop.
Preckwinkle said, “…Those who want to go backward, who are not happy that there are fewer Black and brown people in our jail, have attacked her from the right. Every single candidate who opposes her is opposing her from the right. We have to understand that.”
Foxx’s future may also rest on voters in Chicago’s 10 predominantly Latino wards—six of which voted to stick with Alvarez in 2016.
During this campaign season, Latino activists and journalists at press conferences and forums have asked Foxx about whether her office will continue to investigate cases involving disgraced Chicago police officer Reynaldo Guevara, who is accused of framing more than 51 people of murder, many of them Latinos.
In 2017, Foxx’s office opposed the post-conviction appeals for a new trial for Roberto Almodovar and William Negron. They were freed after Foxx’s office reversed course and withdrew their opposition, saying there wasn’t enough evidence for prosecutors for a retrial.
In January 2019, Geraldo Iglesias—convicted of a 1993 murder—was the tenth man to be exonerated. Activists believe there are many more innocent men behind bars.