Kim Foxx trounces Anita Alvarez, but activists say they want more

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Kim Foxx, right, smiles at the crowd as her daughter, Kai, wipes tears from her eyes. - AP PHOTO/CHARLES REX ARBOGAST
  • AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
  • Kim Foxx, right, smiles at the crowd as her daughter, Kai, wipes tears from her eyes.

In her acceptance speech Tuesday night, delivered after soundly defeating sitting Cook County state's attorney Anita Alvarez, Kim Foxx didn't mention the Laquan McDonald case or any other recent, high-profile criminal justice scandals.

"This race is not just about saying good-bye," Foxx said to a raucous crowd of several hundred, in an apparent reference to the #ByeAnita campaign young racial justice organizers have been waging across the city. "It's about turning the page."

But the case was on the minds of her supporters who packed the 15th floor ballroom of a downtown Holiday Inn for her victory party Tuesday night. Asked why they got involved in the race, many were quick to mention McDonald.

"My five-year-old came home and asked, 'Why did they shoot him 16 times?'" Latasha Watkins told me as her two sons, Jadon, five, and Jonathan, three, played with Kim Foxx yard signs near the back of the ballroom.

Watkins said she and her husband became involved in the Foxx campaign after the McDonald video was released. "I don't have the words to describe how we felt about that video," she said. They took the children to "their first protests," downtown and in front of CPD headquarters. "We had to do something." Jonathan wore a shirt that read "Future All-Star."

Foxx took 58.3 percent of the vote to Alvarez's 28.8 percent, while casino lawyer and former prosecutor Donna More took 13 percent with nearly all precincts reporting late Tuesday night. The total was lopsided in Foxx's favor, but some young racial justice activists emphasized an anti-Alvarez rather than pro-Foxx stance.

Groups like Black Lives Matter, Black Youth Project 100, and Assata's Daughters, a black feminist activist organization, made the McDonald case and others like it central to their "Anita gotta go" campaign. The groups did everything from shutting down an Anita Alvarez event at the University of Chicago to orchestrating a series of 16 banner drops—one for each shot in Laquan McDonald's body—at locations like a Kennedy Expressway overpass and the Art Institute bridge. Banners displayed messages like, "Justice for Rekia, no votes for Anita," referencing the 2012 shooting death of 22-year-old Rekia Boyd by officer Dante Servin.

Also Monday, Assata's Daughters hired a plane bearing banners emblazoned with #ByeAnita, that appeared in the sky as voters went to the polls.

Other groups led more traditional get-out-the-vote efforts. The People's Lobby, a progressive political coalition, claimed in a statement to have called or knocked on the doors of 200,000 people during the race. Grassroots Illinois Action executive director Amisha Patel said her group, backed by labor and community organizations, focused on convincing Latino voters in Humboldt Park and Brighton Park to "support a strong black candidate fighting for black liberation."

With a formidable combination of ongoing protests and several big-ticket endorsements acting against her reelection efforts, Alvarez fought an increasingly uphill battle for another term.

"The focus was on getting Anita out," said Ja'Mal Green, a 20-year-old singer and activist in an anti-Alvarez t-shirt who attended Foxx's campaign party. He spoke in short sentences and pondered a celebratory Facebook status update before settling on "WE WON! ADIOS ANITA!!"

"We're going to keep [Foxx] accountable, too," he added. "We'll stay with her for the next four years."

Assata's Daughters also released a statement after the votes had been tallied. "Chicago Black youth kicked Anita Alvarez out of office. . . We won't stop until we're free and Kim Foxx should know that as well."

Just before Foxx took the stage, a young man in an "Adios Alvarez" t-shirt jumped up and began a chant: "Two down, one to go! Two down, one to go!" The "two" referred to former police chief Garry McCarthy and Alvarez over their role in the Laquan McDonald scandal; "one" was Mayor Rahm Emanuel. 

Once onstage, Foxx spoke briefly. Just as she began, her 13-year-old daughter Kai, began to cry. Foxx paused to comfort her.

The crowd was slow to calm its roar. Foxx beamed. "At this moment, let this girl from Cabrini absorb what's happening," she said. (Foxx lived in the Cabrini Green public housing complex until she was eight years old.) The crowd went crazy again.

"The gulf that's between law enforcement and our communities must be bridged," Foxx said. "The work that they do, the risks that they take, deserve [our] respect. At the same time, we must respect the work of communities."

Despite her victory, Foxx's speech seemed cautious. Perhaps because she must now prepare for her next test: she'll face a Republican challenger, Christopher Pfannkuche, in November's general election.

Meanwhile, over at the campaign headquarters for Anita Alvarez, the election night party ended before it had a chance to begin.

There was no air of excitement, no nervous anticipation. All that remained in the cozy yet sparse Palmer House meeting room—where no more than 50 attendees gathered—was a sense of resignation, as the incoming numbers made a crushing defeat seem all but certain.

By the time roughly half of the vote came in, a 30-point gap between Alvarez and Foxx held steady. Murmurs of an impending concession began drifting about to an unlikely soundtrack of low-energy foot tappers. As well-wishers chatted over cocktails to the sounds of Blind Melon's "No Rain," their candidate was preparing to call it a night, drowned out of the race in a landslide.

Moments later, the music stopped. Reporters and eventgoers gathered around Alvarez's dejected-looking campaign manager, who confirmed the "disappointing" news, unsure whether or not the incumbent would show up to her own event and formally close out her campaign.

But that Alvarez did, in a short speech that was less about conceding, and more about delivering an impassioned defense of her two-term tenure as Cook County state's attorney, and her nearly three-decade career as a prosecutor.

"I know each and every day that I went to court. . . I was there speaking on behalf of people who have gone through some horrific, traumatic experiences. And I know that I did that from my heart," Alvarez said, her voice quivering at times. "I have always done this job with the interests of all victims in mind." Supporters in the room burst out in applause.

Alvarez made no mention of Laquan McDonald in her remarks, but offered up her own rationale for her defeat.

"I've been criticized that I wasn't a very good politician, and that's probably right. And that's probably why I stand here before you tonight," Alvarez said. "But I'm very damn proud of the fact that I am a good prosecutor."

"I'm a girl from Pilsen," she added.

Alvarez then sought refuge from the public eye, whizzing past eventgoers and the press to a discreet side exit door carved into one of the meeting room's floor-to-ceiling mirrors.

Her small crowd of supporters, some of whom kept their coats on during the speech, left soon after, moving from one storm on the inside to the unrelenting rain that awaited them outside.


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