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Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015 12:20 am

Should the Cook County Democratic Party consider a state’s attorney endorsement?

PHOTO BY ALAN SOLOMON/TNS
With growing numbers of black and Latino politicians calling for Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez to resign, it’s probably time for the county’s Democratic Party leaders to rethink their summertime decision not to endorse anyone in the primary.

The incumbent state’s attorney is facing two Democratic primary challengers, Kim Foxx and Donna More.

Foxx, an African-American woman and former prosecutor, is the former chief of staff to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and is backed by other African-American and liberal leaders, plus some labor unions.

More is white, is a former county prosecutor and has represented casino interests since she left the Illinois Gaming Board decades ago. She also contributed to Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s campaign (one of only a handful of contributions she’s ever made). The first-time candidate has demonstrated an ability to raise enough money to compete.

The general rule of thumb for incumbents facing primaries is “the more, the merrier.” Multiple candidates can split the “anti” vote against the incumbent, which means Alvarez won’t need to receive 50 percent plus one to win. In other words, she could win.

The Chicago media is currently in an uproar about police-involved shootings, and Alvarez is taking big heat for her cozy ties to the police and for her alleged slow-walking of murder charges against the police officer who shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times last year.

Alvarez has always been very friendly to police interests, once charging a woman with a felony for recording two Chicago police officers as they were trying to convince her to drop sexual harassment charges against another police officer. That’s going above and beyond.

When the state’s lone Latino in the U.S. Congress, Luiz Gutierrez, withdrew his Alvarez endorsement and other major Cook County Latino figures called on her to resign, the pressure built to a full-on boil.

But as we’ve seen elsewhere, a racial backlash could easily develop in this contest. Racial politics are a hard fact of life in Cook County (as they are most places), so what follows may seem insensitive but it’s not meant to be at all.

The hard fact is that suburban Cook County just isn’t as racially diverse or as liberal as Chicago. It was just 24 percent African-American and 25 percent Latino in the last census, compared with 32 percent white in the city. The suburbs have quite a lot of people who fled Chicago or who refuse to live there.

It’s also not a stretch to imagine that the reaction by suburban whites to the “Black Friday” protests on Chicago’s famed Michigan Ave. were probably a bit different than they were on the South and West Sides.

Alvarez has repeatedly and quite angrily insisted that she won’t let “the politicians” with “political agendas” force her out of office or out of the race.

So, the question has to be asked: What if Alvarez actually wins the nomination as a pro-police, law and order candidate? The uproar from the Democratic base would be deafening, and the consequences in the state’s largest and most important Democratic county might be substantial.

On the other hand, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Chicago Ald. Ed Burke support Alvarez. Those two have a lot of sway in Cook County so as long as they are with the incumbent, the party likely won’t back anyone else.

Both men represent majority Latino areas. Madigan is himself facing a Latino primary opponent (which is probably no big deal, but Madigan hates taking chances). When asked last week if it was time to reconsider the county party’s non-endorsement, Madigan said he was too busy focusing on the state budget – which is simply not believable if you know the multi-tasking Madigan even a little bit.

And Burke flatly refused to back away from Alvarez last week.

Madigan also has quite a few contested suburban general election House campaigns, so the opinions of those voters have to be factored in as well.

It’s always possible, perhaps even probable, that Alvarez and More will cancel each other out, allowing Foxx to win.

But Chicago Democrats have enough problems these days (impending school strike, huge budget deficits, a murder spike, taxes rising everywhere) without piling an Alvarez primary victory on top of that gigantic mountain.

The Democratic Party showed it could adapt when it stripped Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown of her slating because of a federal investigation and then handed it to one of her opponents.

The same sort of rethinking should be done with the Alvarez contest.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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