We don't regret those endorsements. Nor have we joined the more recent chorus arguing that Alvarez's handling of the Laquan McDonald case disqualifies her from office. She didn't whitewash this case; when her officelearned details of McDonald's death, she recruited U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon to investigate. But that doesn't mean Alvarez has handled her subsequent role in the case well. What's more frustrating is that she doesn't seem to think she could have performed better.
This contest comes at a time when citizens of metropolitan Chicago are re-examining, and demanding better of, the criminal justice system here: How prosecutors make charging decisions. What standards police officials require of their departments. How rigorously oversight boards pursue accusations of officer misconduct. Whether mayors, aldermen and other elected officials are doing all they can to ensure fairness in the system and to protect innocents from violent crime. And more. In the months since the release of that breathtaking video of McDonald crumpling onto a street, many among us have come to better understand why so many law-abiding Chicagoans distrust the criminal justice system here.
Eight years ago we wrote that while the state's attorney's office had done a good job in many respects, it needed a fresh start. That is our belief today. Any incumbent's re-election ought never be an entitlement. Elections are opportunities to evaluate the needs of the times and of the citizens who write their public servants' paychecks. Today we acknowledge Alvarez's 29-year career in this office. Yet we endorse one of her challengers, Kim Foxx, in the Democratic primary for state's attorney.
If we could choose one of the three candidates in this race to prosecute a murder case in a courtroom tomorrow, we'd choose Alvarez for her depth of experience there. But the top job of state's attorney involves many other skills: judgment about law enforcement priorities and conduct; frank and comfortable communication with the public; administration of a big and vital office that, like all of county government, will have to get smaller as pension costs crush budgets.
The McDonald case gave Alvarez an opportunity to display sound judgment. Yet she hasn't adequately explained why she didn't charge the officer who shot McDonald until 13 months after the killing — even though she says she had decided some time earlier to accuse him of first-degree murder. And, debating her opponents before the Tribune Editorial Board, Alvarez repeatedly came up empty when pressed on a related question: If a judge hadn't ordered the release of that video, would she still be waiting for the feds to complete their investigation before she filed charges?
Alvarez's wordy non-answers to that question did nothing to quash the impression that she slow-walked this case, hoping for a joint news conference with the U.S. attorney when he finished his (still-unfinished) probe. The suspicion that Alvarez could and should have moved faster may help explain why 71 percent of Cook County respondents in a Tribune poll said they weren't satisfied with her handling of this case.
Alvarez has missed chances to assure voters that she's learned something from this debacle. Unlike Mayor Rahm Emanuel, she hasn't come to understand that it's not in the public interest to endlessly withhold information about deadly force incidents. This case also should have taught her the peril of binding together the state and federal investigations. She should have pledged that next time, she'd wrap up the state investigation as fast as possible and, if appropriate, promptly file charges.
She's had a much better view than most people of how the Independent Police Review Authority doesn't work, and she has known for quite some time that police videos often, or always, didn't have audio. Alvarez should have been agitating to fix the things that we all now know desperately need fixing.
Yes, it's easy for her critics to pounce now, knowing the things we all know. But Alvarez has the benefit of that hindsight, too, and she isn't using this campaign to demand the fixes. She sounds to us as if, presented with the same facts, she might make the same judgments again.
We think Foxx, by contrast, in time would rebuild the public's trust. She spent 12 years as an assistant state's attorney, mostly in juvenile court, and served as chief of staff to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Foxx is a strong communicator. She has experience in helping to administer a $4 billion government. She also has the pulse of this moment in Chicago: She essentially shares our view that cases in which police use deadly force should automatically be assigned to an office that doesn't work intimately with that police department — perhaps to a prosecutor from a different jurisdiction, or the state attorney general's office, or some other body empowered to weigh the filing of criminal charges.
We endorse Foxx while admitting two concerns. First, she has been endorsed by her former boss, Preckwinkle, and the county Democratic organization. Beyond a polite hello in the elevator, prosecutors should be fiercely independent of politicians, especially those who sign off on their budget. The clear and present dangers of intrusion from county pols run from patronage to policy to principle. Ask anyone who's ever worked near the top of the state's attorney's office.
Second, in that session with our editorial board, we tried to make sure Foxx is running for chief prosecutor, not for public defender (actually an appointed post). Foxx talks eagerly and easily about police misconduct cases and whether too many people are in prison. And it's fair for her to ride waves of public animus toward law enforcement in some communities. But, year after year, hundreds of young people are slaughtered in those communities by stone-cold killers who should be ostracized and punished. Job One for the state's attorney — again, the people's attorney — is to stand up for those dead victims, their devastated families, and the rule of criminal law in Cook County.
Foxx suggested to us that she does understand the crime-fighting demands of the job. We trust that she could connect with people in those violence-ravaged communities. That she could explain to them why cooperating with cops and prosecutors in finding and convicting the bad guys can curtail the bloodshed that takes so many of their children's lives.
The need to bridge that disconnect between Chicago communities and their police officers is one of several reasons we're hoping for a fresh start at state's attorney. With respect for Alvarez's long service and also for the third candidate in the race, Donna More, the Tribune gives Kim Foxx its endorsement.
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