Foe of Cook County state's attorney won't let 60 Minutes comments die | Bleader

Foe of Cook County state's attorney won't let 60 Minutes comments die


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Howard Brookins Jr.: mulling a run for Cook County states attorney?
  • Sun-Times Media
  • Howard Brookins Jr.: mulling a run for Cook County state's attorney?
Howard Brookins Jr. is alderman of the 21st Ward, chairman of the City Council's black caucus, and a member of the mayor's commission on school closings. But he had something else on his mind when he ran into a few of his colleagues and their staffers at City Hall the other day.

"Necrophilia!" he said. "Shit, man. Can you believe that?"

Brookins wasn't telling them about the latest craze in his ward—far from it. Like countless others around the country, he was simultaneously stunned, outraged, and—given his irreverent sense of humor—a bit amused that Cook County state's attorney Anita Alvarez had raised the subject during a now-infamous interview with 60 Minutes a couple weeks ago.

At best, Alvarez came across as disinterested in finding out why a number of men served lengthy prison terms for vicious crimes they didn't commit. Most damaging was her insistence that "it's possible" necrophilia explained why a convicted rapist's DNA ended up on a murder victim—instead of admitting that the rapist was probably the guy responsible for the assault and killing, and that the county prosecuted innocent men.

Alvarez subsequently accused 60 Minutes of taking her comments out of context and ignoring her work on wrongful convictions. But there's no denying the segment's lasting impression.

"Necrophilia!" Brookins says when we sit down for an interview. "I don't think they forced you into saying that. It's where your mind-set is, and it's one of the reasons we have a credibility gap in the community. Or were they beating you with a rubber hose?"

Brookins has been a foe of Alvarez's since 2008, when he was one of five men who lost to her in the Democratic primary for state's attorney.

Alvarez likes to point out that since winning the seat she's set up neighborhood offices, earned national recognition for fighting human trafficking and prostitution, and launched a "deferred prosecution" program that's helped a handful of nonviolent offenders avoid felony charges and prison time.

You could say Brookins hasn't been impressed. "Who would have known she would end up being unlikable and doing nothing for the African-American community?"

Like other critics, Brookins blasts Alvarez for failing to diversify her staff, investigating student journalists who examined wrongful convictions, and doing little to seek justice in what looks like a cover-up of a 2004 death involving a nephew of former mayor Richard M. Daley. After relentless reporting by the Sun-Times, a special prosecutor was appointed to the case, and the Daley nephew, R.J. Vanecko, was charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Last year Brookins tried to derail Alvarez's reelection bid by recruiting former city inspector general David Hoffman to take her on. "I literally lobbied him for months," Brookins says. "I introduced him to people. But he and everybody else seemed to think she had support across the county."

Brookins then made a late-hour attempt to challenge Alvarez himself. A number of Democratic leaders backed him at a party-slating session before the primaries, but Brookins hadn't done enough to win broad support. "It was a last-ditch effort," he says. "People were like, 'Why shake the apple cart?' At that level, except for Todd Stroger, there's never been an effort to oust an incumbent."

Alvarez was unopposed in the Democratic primary last winter. In November she coasted past GOP opponent Lori Yokoyama with 77 percent of the vote.

"Where are good Republicans when you need them?" Brookins asks.

Republicans are discussing the same thing, among other curious subjects. But that's another story.

Brookins says he doesn't want to sit around complaining about the state's attorney—he wants her ousted.

Even if Alvarez isn't up for reelection until 2016, Brookins believes it's time to start thinking about alternatives. And he could be one of them. He lists some credentials: as a private attorney he defended victims of police misconduct, and as an alderman he's fought to resolve torture cases involving former police commander Jon Burge. He delivered on a promise and won a long fight to bring a Walmart and its jobs to his ward. He'd make a priority of going after felony gun offenders while supporting firearm ownership laws that "give some comfort to people coming home from the late shift who have to walk through their back alley on the way into the house."

And he promises that when rapists are linked to a crime scene, he will go after them.

To be clear, Brookins stresses that he's focused on his current commitments and isn't saying he's going to run. Not yet, at least.

But he will make one promise on the record.

"Necrophilia! I'm going to use that word in public every time I can for the next four years."

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