The State’s Attorney race in Cook County is a hotly contested one. The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office serves as legal counsel for the county’s government agencies and public officials. Prosecuting crimes committed in Cook County, the State’s Attorney’s office is the 2nd largest prosecutor’s office in the nation and is divided into seven bureaus: Criminal Prosecutions, Juvenile Justice, Narcotics, Special Prosecutions, Civil Actions, Investigations, and Administrative Services.
Incumbent Kim Foxx is running for her 2nd term against Republican Pat O’Brien and Libertarian, Brian Dennehy.
THE INCUMBENT: KIM FOXX
Making history as the first African American elected to the office, Kim Foxx ran on a platform centered around criminal justice reform. While in office she has faced numerous critiques and has been the target of vicious attacks by those opposed to her ideas of reform. Since her election in 2016, her office focused on prosecuting violent crimes instead of low-level offenses, preferring diversion, and substance abuse programs along with other alternatives. During her first term in office, there was an increase of 25% of people referred to diversion programs. These programs waive felony convictions if individuals provide restitution or complete substance abuse programs.
According to the Marshall Project, she declined to prosecute 5000 cases that would have previously been pursued by the State’s Attorney instead choosing to send them to alternative programs. She also historically expunged 1200 low-level marijuana offenses after cannabis was legalized in Illinois.
Despite her office’s questionable handling of the Jussie Smollett case, she has made strides in keeping her campaign promise of criminal justice reform and bringing transparency to the office. During her first term, she created the Gun Crimes Strategies Unit which placed prosecutors in districts experiencing the most violent crime, vacated over 100 wrongful convictions, and implemented bail reform policies.
With the recent protests and civil unrest, her office faced criticism from the Mayor’s office and the Chicago Police Department that believe those involved in the looting of the city this summer should be prosecuted. Kim Foxx defended her office’s actions saying, that while prosecutors may recommend bail and time, it is the judges who make those final determinations. Of all the arrests made for looting in May and June, only 325 were considered felonies. Of those felonies, Foxx stated that 90% of the felony arrests were approved for charges and none of those charges were dropped. Misdemeanor charges for peaceful protestors were dropped.
REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE: PAT O’BRIEN
Pat O’Brien is an attorney with over 45 years’ experience. A criminal lawyer, he also served as a prosecutor for 18 years with the State’s Attorney’s office. He says he felt compelled to run for office after learning Kim Foxx dropped charges against, Jussie Smollett. With a focus on restoring “law and order”, O’Brien promises to create units with a specialized focus in the following areas: (1) a rackets unit to go after gangs, (2) a unit designed to protect witnesses who are called to testify against gang members and (3) a public corruptions unit to ensure integrity in the office.
With the protests and looting over the summer, O’Brien promises to vigorously prosecute criminal cases and keep neighborhoods safe as State’s Attorney. He believes Kim Foxx has emboldened criminals and has left Cook County residents unprotected.
After strongly criticizing Foxx on her handling of the Smollett case, his record as a prosecutor has come into question with reports that at least 27 people were wrongly tried and convicted of crimes they didn’t commit under his watch. Particularly, the men known as the Roscetti Four, who were wrongfully convicted in 1988 for the rape and murder of student, Lori Roscetti. Sentenced to life in prison, they were forced to confess to the crime. After it was determined DNA did not match any of the men, they were released and exonerated after spending 14 years in prison. O’Brien was the lead prosecutor in the case.
LIBERATERIAN CANDIDATE BRIAN DENNEHY
Brian Dennehy describes himself as a tired citizen who decided to run to “try and make things better”. He is vehemently opposed to the criminalization of adults engaged in peaceful and voluntary activities such as drug possession, distribution, and consensual sex work. As State’s Attorney, Dennehy says he would not prosecute adult consent comes.
A proponent of people-based solutions rather than police or prosecutor-based solutions, he believes that bringing peace to communities needs to involve the people. He is against prosecuting drug offenders, calling it a “waste of resources” instead believing that drug abuse is a medical and health issue rather than a criminal justice issue.
Cook County voters will choose the next State’s Attorney on Election Day, Tuesday, November 3rd. For more information on the candidates for Cook County State’s Attorney, visit their respective websites https://www.kimfoxx.com/ and https://www.obrienforcook.com/. Candidate Brian Dennehy does not have a website. Info for his candidacy can be found on his Facebook Page.
Danielle Sanders is a journalist and writer living in Chicago. Find her on social media @DanieSandersOfficial.