I woke up bright and early Monday morning to discover I’d made the prime time, featured in an attack ad released by Bill Conway’s campaign for Cook County state’s attorney.
OK, technically,I wasn’t featured in that commercial. Instead, it replayed comments that incumbent state’s attorney Kim Foxx made on my podcast last week when she stated that the neverending political soap opera known as Smollettgate is “bullshit.”
Having been dragged into this race, let me make a few observations.
Conway is the boyish-looking son of the fabulously wealthy William Conway Jr., who helped create the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm that’s made a fortune, in part, by building bombs, guns, and other weapons of destruction.
Daddy Conway has contributed about $10.5 million to Bill’s campaign—hence the money for the 30-second commercial.
Speaking of which—the commercial is kind of funny, in a lame and hokey way. Especially the ending, which features Foxx saying bullshit over and over again like the reverb in a bad ’70s rock song.
But as much as I get a kick out of the commercial, it doesn’t mean I’m voting for Conway.
Oh, god—please don’t conclude that I am voting for Conway. If I had to rank my favorites in this race, Conway would be at the bottom of a list that includes the other three candidates—Foxx, Donna More, and Bob Fioretti, who will always have a place in my heart because he once connected me to the great Bobby Hull. Long story.
In his commercial, Conway is clearly trying to make hay out of the fact that Kim Foxx used a “barnyard epithet,” as journalist J. Anthony Lukas would say, on my show.
As though Conway is shocked to hear a grown woman swear. In fact, he’s so shocked, the caption on the commercial reads “bullsh*t,” just to protect us.
In Foxx’s defense, lots of people curse when they come on my show. Guess there’s just something about our humble little studio in the Sun-Times office—just down the hall from the bathrooms—that turns my guests into potty mouths.
The larger question is whether Foxx is correct in her observation.
Longer answer—well, let’s start with a confession.
I’m hopelessly, shamelessly obsessed with Smollettgate. I talk about it all the time, having taken several deep dives with Sun-Times criminal court reporter Andy Grimm, who probably knows more about the matter than any local not named Dan Webb.
It’s got everything you’d want in a celebrity scandal, including . . . a celebrity! Albeit, a B-list one in Jussie Smollett. Let’s run through a few details of what he said went down . . .
It was the wee hours of a brutally cold January morning in 2019. Smollett left his near north side apartment to get a sandwich at Subway. A couple of thugs jumped him, threw liquid on him, tied a rope around his neck like they were going to hang him, all while making homophobic slurs and saying this is MAGA country. And so forth.
It took about a month for police to pull this tale apart, eventually alleging that Smollett had paid two Nigerian-born brothers to stage the attack to help advance his career.
Foxx’s office charged him with disorderly conduct. Then prosecutors quietly dropped the charges. And Smollett pissed off everybody by proclaiming his innocence.
Soon everyone was investigating the investigators. It turns out that Foxx had taken a call from Tina Tchen, a well-connected lawyer acting on behalf of the Smollett family, asking her to ask police chief Eddie Johnson to move the case to the FBI. Foxx made the call, though the case stayed with the police.
The fallout prompted Judge Michael Toomin to appoint a special prosecutor—the aforementioned Dan Webb—who reindicted Smollett on charges of filing false police reports. The city’s suing Smollett to make him pay the $130,000 or so it spent investigating his allegations. He countersued the city.
There may be other lawsuits I’m forgetting. The point is—this story isn’t going anywhere. Looks like Andy Grimm and I will be talking about it for many more months.
But as gloriously trashy as this all may be, our continuing fixation with Smolletgate says as much about our obsession with celebrity as it says about Kim Foxx.
Should Foxx have taken that call from Tchen? In retrospect, no. But at the time Smollett was viewed as the victim, so it’s not surprising she would. OK, Foxx might not have taken a call from a cloutless person. But Tchen’s a major player in the Obama political orbit. It’s naïve to think any state’s attorney dealing with a high-profile case would not take a call from a power player like Tchen.
I’d understand if this case involved a violent crime. As when Mayor Daley’s nephew killed David Koschman with a punch. Oh, where was the outrage with how the police and state’s attorney—long before Foxx—bungled that case? It took years of Sun-Timesinvestigative stories before a judge assigned Dan Webb (again) to investigate.
In contrast, getting worked up over Smollettgate is like getting worked up over, oh, the on-again-off-again relationship between Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner—it doesn’t warrant the attention we give it.
That said, I really hope Ben and Jen work things out—they seem like such a nice couple.
As for how Foxx has run the office, you could argue that she’s the finest state’s attorney since, like, ever. I mean, the competition’s not that great. At least Foxx is the first to pull back on the insanely cruel war on drugs that’s devastated so many Black lives, families, and neighborhoods.
As the Sun-Times put it in an editorial they wrote endorsing her: “For the first time in decades, the state’s attorney’s office was employing an overarching and data-tested crime fighting strategy, rather than just racking up convictions. And it was a strategy built on principles of social justice—making our streets safer without mindlessly filling up jails. It was exactly what Foxx had promised.”
It's not as juicy as “bullsh*t,” but it’s much closer to the truth. v