Chicago Democrats Pick Former Judge to Replace Kim Foxx as Top Prosecutor


Eileen O’Neill Burke, a Democrat and retired appellate judge, defeated a more liberal candidate in last week’s primary election for the job of top prosecutor in Cook County, Ill., according to The Associated Press.

The result came after more than a week of counting ballots, including mail-in votes, that were not able to be reported on Election Day.

Justice O’Neill Burke is expected to succeed Kim Foxx, the state’s attorney for the county, who arrived in office in 2016 promising to change the criminal justice system with a progressive platform. She chose not to seek re-election this year after two terms.

A victory for Justice O’Neill Burke was widely seen as a shift away from Ms. Foxx’s approach. Her opponent, Clayton Harris III, had Ms. Foxx’s backing.

In the general election in November, Justice O’Neill Burke will face a Republican opponent, Bob Fioretti, a former alderman. But Cook County, which includes Chicago, is heavily Democratic, and the winner of the Democratic primary is widely favored to win the general election.

Crime is a potent political issue for voters in Chicago and other cities, where shootings and homicides spiked during the pandemic but have seen declines in the past two years. Progressive prosecutors, including Ms. Foxx, have been pilloried for policies that moderate and conservative voters have seen as too lenient on criminal offenders.

George Gascón, the district attorney in Los Angeles County, faces a difficult race for re-election in November. Chesa Boudin, a progressive district attorney in San Francisco, was ousted by voters in a recall election in 2022. In Nueces County, Texas, the prosecutor, Mark Gonzalez, resigned amid efforts by conservatives to remove him from office.

At times, the campaign in Chicago appeared to be a referendum on Ms. Foxx, whose tenure as Cook County’s top prosecutor brought promised changes to some elements of the criminal justice system but also attracted heavy criticism.

Leading the second-largest prosecutor’s office in the nation, Ms. Foxx supported a measure enacted in Illinois last year that abolished cash bail. She drew fire for her handling of the case against Jussie Smollett, a television star who was found guilty of falsely reporting to the Chicago police that he had been the victim of a racist and homophobic attack in 2019.

Ms. Foxx’s office initially dropped the charges against Mr. Smollett related to filing a false police report, saying he was not a threat to public safety. But a judge later appointed a special prosecutor to review the case, and charges were reinstated.

On the campaign trail, Justice O’Neill Burke said that her policies would mark a change from Ms. Foxx’s approach, and that she would be tougher on offenders who are convicted of low level crimes. Justice O’Neill Burke has vowed to reverse a policy instituted by Ms. Foxx to only prosecute retail theft as a felony if the value of the stolen goods exceeds $1,000.

“The current state’s attorney does not believe in accountability,” Justice O’Neill Burke said at a campaign event last week.

Mr. Harris praised Ms. Foxx’s achievements, but also said in interviews that he intended to “chart my own course in this office.”

In many ways, the two candidates offered similar agendas: Mr. Harris and Justice O’Neill Burke said they supported the state’s decision to end cash bail, and both promised to continue restorative justice measures that Ms. Foxx championed.

Their support came from different corners of the region’s Democratic Party, and some Republicans. Mr. Harris received backing from the city’s labor and progressive establishment, including the Chicago Teachers Union and Toni Preckwinkle, the chair of the Cook County Democratic Party.

Justice O’Neill Burke attracted more support and donors from the business community, including six-figure donations from executives in the finance and restaurant industries.

The two candidates have highlighted the contrast in their experience: Justice O’Neill Burke spent decades as a lawyer and judge, while Mr. Harris’s career has been focused more on teaching and working in government.

In the weeks before the election, voters in Cook County appeared disengaged from the race. In a poll of voters released earlier this month, close to 60 percent said they were undecided. The rest were evenly split between Mr. Harris and Justice O’Neill Burke.

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