January 22, 2020


The bad news for Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx is that she will not get more than 40 percent of the vote in the upcoming March 17 Democratic primary.

The good news is that when facing three opponents 40 percent will be more than enough to win. And don't kid yourself, Foxx will win.

There are serious questions about Foxx's competency, particularly in light of her handling of the Jussie Smollett fiasco that made Chicago the butt of the jokes on late night talk shows and her bail-and-out criminal justice reforms. Foxx was resoundingly nominated in 2016, getting 645,738 votes, or 56.5 percent, in a turnout of 1,142,793.

That won't happen again in 2020, when turnout will eclipse 1.25 million. Foxx will barely top 500,000, but with Bill Conway, Donna More and Bob Fioretti fracturing the other 750,000, a Foxx win is a foregone conclusion. There is no way that any of the three anti-Foxx candidates can amass two-thirds or more of the anti-Foxx base.

Foxx's 2016 coalition was racial and ideological, consisting of about 400,000 African-American voters and about 250,000 white liberals, mostly those along Chicago's north Lakefront and in suburban enclaves like Evanston, Oak Park and the upper North Shore. All were bonded by outrage toward incumbent Anita Alvarez's alleged mishandling of the Laquan McDonald shooting and delayed prosecution. The 2016 primary was a referendum on Alvarez, and the Foxx vote was anti-Alvarez, not pro-Foxx. The proverbial right time/right place was at play.

Foxx's 2020 base after one term in office is a lot less than her 2016 coalition, likely less than 500,000, and is quite fragile. Any sense of racial solidarity that African-American voters may have is balanced against their need for personal safety, particularly in high-crime neighborhoods. They might applaud Foxx's policy of low- or no-bonds, and of non-prosecution of non-violent drug offenses, but they don't want arrested perps back on their streets either. White liberals have a sense of guilt: They don't want to vote against an African-American woman, and they fervently want "criminal justice reform" (whatever that is, but it sounds politically-correct), and they also don't want any perps on their streets either. They also want competence and integrity in public officeholders. They want to live in a fantasy.

Everybody else, the remaining 60 percent, want Foxx out.

The challenge of the Conway-More-Fioretti bunch is to crack Foxx's base, or, at the very least, peel-off some of that base. In short, get her under 35 percent of the vote, and themselves at 35-plus-one.

CONWAY: The rap on Conway is that he is, in political slang, too white, if there is such a thing. That means he is bland and boring, his image is indistinct, his charisma is deficient and he is a straddler and wobbler on issues. That also means he lacks the gravitas, such as minimal trial experience, credentials and credibility. His torrent of TV ads proclaim that he is a "proud progressive" and that he will cure the county's "massive incarceration problem" by not putting those who are "poor, addicted or have mental health issues" in jail. He calls them "marginalized." Sounds like Foxx. But then he gets tough by insisting that any gun-using criminal will go to and stay in jail.

I've got advice for Conway. If you think that Foxx cares more about criminals than victims then just say it. If you think Foxx is incompetent then just say it. Conway can't get 35 to 40 percent as the waffling, prevaricating semi-anti-Foxx candidate.

What Conway doesn't lack is a father who is a political Santa Claus. A founder of the equity investment Carlyle Group, the elder Conway is worth $3.5 billion, according Forbes, and has given $4.85 million thus far to his kid. The Conway campaign, stacked deep with consultants, made a $5 million media buy for January. It is said that one can't make a sow's ear into a silk purse. Conway is the more-you-see the less-you-like type, and will tank with less than 20 percent on March 17.

FIORETTI: I went to law school with this guy back in the late 1970s, and Fioretti is a born lawyer and politician. Loquacious is the word. But after winning a near an aldermanic seat in 2007 and 2011, Fioretti was remapped out and ran and lost for mayor in 2015 (getting 7.4 percent), state senator in 2016, county board president in 2018 (losing to Toni Preckwinkle 443,943-286,675 in a one-on-one contest), and then for mayor again in 2019 (getting 4,302 votes). But Fioretti is suddenly a major 2020 player, getting the Fraternal Order of Police union (FOP) endorsement.

Said Fioretti: "People are fleeing the county. People can't sell their homes. Government is dysfunctional. Violent crimes are out of control." And then he said the magic word: Foxx is "incompetent" and "should resign."

MORE: The former federal prosecutor received 12.6 percent in 2016 and is the toughest-on-crime and most pro-police candidate in the race. "I will not be like (Anita) Alvarez, I will not be like (Kim) Foxx. My job is to be a prosecutor, not a politician. I'm the only qualified" candidate in the race. More had $19,287 on-hand as of Dec. 31. More's natural base is white women, but she needs to enhance her visibility real quick.

The early outlook: Who will surge first? Who can peel off votes from the Foxx base while consolidating 60 percent of the anti-Foxx base? The most plausible is More. But Foxx remains the favorite.

NORTHWEST SIDE: Write this stuff down. Memorize it. Truth is stranger than fiction.

Chicago has its Bucktown, Uptown and New Town, but the Northwest Side is definitely "Coptown," with thousands of first responders and their family members living in the area, which includes the 41st, 45th, 38th and 39th wards. Area politicians are engaged in their usual hijinks, with an eye to that base, and with a subtext of the February Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) elections, in which current president Kevin Graham faces two opposing slates. (More about this in a future article.) The FOP endorsed appointed state Senator Rob Martwick (D-10), which elicited a huge pushback, as Martwick is being challenged in the March 17 Democratic primary by Danny O'Toole, a former Marine and decorated police officer shot in the line of duty.

n the past, running against police officers, Martwick's services as the House pension committee chairman got him FOP backing. Not this time. The FOP then backtracked and found both Martwick and O'Toole "well-qualified." Martwick's top political aide Dave Feller folded his campaign for 3rd District state representative and 36th Ward Democratic committeeman to concentrate on Martwick, who I think has no ground operation west of Nagle except in Norwood Park Township. Martwick's alliance with ousted alderman John Arena is unhelpful in the 45th Ward, where the FOP is backing John Garrido for subcircuit judge and Joe Duplechin for state representative versus Martwick and Arena's protege Lindsey LaPointe.

Martwick represented the 19th House District (east of Nagle in the 45th and 38th wards) until June, when he decided to take John Mulroe's senate seat, upending the aspirations of 41st Ward Democratic committeeman Tim Heneghan, who is now retiring but has endorsed O'Toole over Martwick. He has also endorsed Joe Cook, an attorney with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, as his successor as committeeman.

Also endorsing O'Toole is popular 41st Ward alderman Anthony Napolitano, who defeated Heneghan with over 70 percent in the 2019 election. Napolitano has also endorsed retired police lieutenant Bill Kilroy for Democratic committeeman (who has FOP backing). The Kilroy-Cook race has future implications, as Cook is expected to run for alderman in 2023 if he wins the committeemanship. "I intend to build a strong (Democratic) party in the ward," he told me. Cook's wife, Jennifer Callahan, is running countywide for judge. O'Toole and More are planning a joint districtwide mailing in March.

Another affected race is for former state Representative Mike McAuliffe's (R-20), now occupied by Rosemont Mayor Brad Stephens. McAuliffe resigned in June, and it was thought that Speaker Mike Madigan (D), with a 74-44 majority, would give Stephens a free pass in 2020. But his staff recruited Michelle Darbro, a CFD firefighter/paramedic who has the endorsement of Local 2 (her union), FOP and CTU (teachers), and faces a primary against Cary Capparelli, son of former longtime (1970-2004) state Representative Ralph Capparelli (D). Napolitano has endorsed Darbro.

Alderman Jim Gardiner (45th), who beat Arena in 2019, is running for Democratic committeeman, the post now held by Arena, who is retiring (and recently 'quit' his city job). He faces Ellen Hill, but will win easily. A Gardiner win will consolidate his ward base for 2023, when either Arena or his son Joey will oppose Gardiner, a firefighter who has FOP/Local 2 backing.

And lastly, FOP has endorsed CPD sergeant Ammie Kessem for 41st Ward Republican committeeman against McAuliffe, who always got FOP backing in past legislative contests. McAuliffe's late father and predecessor in the House was a Chicago cop. He said he is running to "help Stephens." Napolitano has also endorsed Kessem.

The outlook: The 2016 Alvarez-Foxx vote in the four wards was 22,674-17,358, demonstrating the area's strong law-and-order bias. If O'Toole manages to tie Martwick to Foxx, whom he supported at slatemaking, he can kiss his new job good-bye.

A final pour-over: Tammy Wendt, who was part of Jason Van Dyke's legal defense team in the McDonald case, is running for Board of Review in the suburban district which includes the 41st Ward. Her opponent is Abdelnasser Rashid.