Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx was sworn in for her second term Monday in a virtual ceremony.
Foxx, who beat out two opponents in one of the most contentious local races this election cycle, accepted "the oath of office for her second term as the Cook County State’s Attorney from the Honorable Sharon Johnson Coleman," according to a release.
“It is a true honor that Cook Countians have put their faith in me for another four years to lead the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office as their State’s Attorney. It’s not lost on me that my journey from Cabrini Green to State’s Attorney is both inspiring and improbable because the neighborhood I grew up in wasn’t afforded the benefit of opportunity,” Foxx said in a statement.
Foxx said her priority for her second term will be "tackling this persistent gun violence problem that we have here in Chicago."
"The sad reality is four years ago when I took over, we were tackling gun violence after a really horrific year," she said. "And 2020 has proven to be incredibly challenging, so tackling gun violence so that we can keep our communities safe."
Foxx defeated Republican Pat O’Brien and Libertarian Brian Dennehy in November.
She was first elected in 2016, when she defeated embattled incumbent Anita Alvarez, who was under fire for her handling of the fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald in 2014. Foxx previously served as an assistant Cook County state’s attorney for 12 years, then as chief of staff for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle after that.
In her first campaign, Foxx ran on a platform centered on criminal justice reform as part of a wave of progressive prosecutors running for office nationwide. She cruised to victory in the 2016 general election with 72% of the vote over her Republican opponent.
Shortly after taking office, Foxx began making changes, first raising the bar for charging shoplifting suspects with a felony. The policy now keeps retail theft charges as misdemeanors unless the value of the items stolen exceeds $1,000, well above the previous $300 to $500 threshold at which felony charges were allowed, or if the suspect has 10 prior felony convictions.
In 2017, she announced that prosecutors would no longer oppose the release of pre-trial detainees charged with nonviolent offenses just because they cannot afford to pay their cash bond of up to $1,000. Later that year, Foxx instituted a new policy for prosecutors to recommend in bond court that defendants who are charged with misdemeanors or low-level felonies and “don’t present a risk of violence or flight” be released pending trial.
Also in 2017, Foxx threw her support behind Illinois’ Bail Reform Act to move away from cash bail for minor crimes and shifted away from prosecuting people accused of driving on licenses that have been suspended or provoked for solely financial reasons, like failing to pay parking tickets. In 2020, the governor signed into statewide law a related bill to stop suspending licenses for unpaid tickets and non-moving violations.
Foxx has drawn praise for her efforts from activists and advocacy groups, many of which helped propel her campaign to oust Alvarez, as well as criticism on multiple fronts – over both policy and politics.
Some members of law enforcement, particularly leaders of Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police, have been outspoken in their opposition to Foxx and her policies, publicly pushing her to take a more “tough on crime” approach and even calling on her to step down. Their criticism came at a time when both Chicago and the nation continue to experience a sort of reckoning on police reform and racial justice, accelerated by high-profile police killings in recent years, including McDonald.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Police Supt. David Brown have also implied, albeit more subtly, that Foxx’s policies have contributed to crime. The city’s top cop has on multiple occasions pointed to prosecutorial decisions in general terms, rarely identifying Foxx by name, when looking to place blame for shootings and violence across the city.
Lightfoot and Brown both heightened their critiques of Foxx after a round of looting erupted in downtown Chicago overnight on Aug. 10 for the second time this year, with widespread theft and property damage at countless businesses, as well as shots fired by and at police and more than 100 arrests. Lightfoot warned Foxx that “these people need to be held accountable and not cycled through the system,” while Brown claimed “criminals took to the streets with confidence that there will be no consequences for their actions” following the first round of looting in May amid unrest over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Foxx pushed back on the insinuation, warning her critics not to conflate peaceful protesters with looters and those causing damage or inciting violence, noting that charges were pending in 90% of the more than 300 felony cases brought by Chicago police related to that unrest in the spring.
Also intensifying criticism and casting the most high-profile shadow over both Foxx's campaign and office for the last year-and-a-half has been the controversy surrounding her handling of the case against actor Jussie Smollett, which made national headlines.
Accused of staging a racist and anti-gay attack on himself in Chicago in January 2019, Smollett - who starred in “Empire” at the time - was indicted on 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct that March. All charges against him were dropped later that month with little explanation - a move critics claimed was special treatment by Foxx's office. Five months later, a judge appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the case and in early February, a grand jury indicted Smollett once again on six felony counts of disorderly conduct.
In August, the special prosecutor said after completing his investigation that there was “evidence that establishes substantial abuses of discretion and operational failures” in Foxx’s office’s handling of the Smollett case, though he concluded that it did not support criminal charges against her or anyone in the office.
Foxx’s opponents in both the primary and general elections seized on the story to raise questions about the transparency of her office and allegations of preferential treatment.
Despite the controversy, she won the Democratic primary with 50% of the vote against three opponents, one of whom was the well-funded son of a private equity billionaire who ran television ads early and often highlighting the Smollett case.
While she may have staved off her primary challengers, Foxx did win in March with 8 points less than she did in 2016. She lost a greater proportion of support in suburban Cook County, earning 43% of that vote this year, compared to 52% in 2016. Her share of the vote in Chicago dropped from 62% in her first primary, to 55% this past March – though in 2020 she faced three primary challengers versus running against just two other candidates in 2016.
Still she was able to fend off a challenge from Dennehy and O’Brien, who was the more formidable of the two opponents and seized on attacks on Foxx to launch his campaign.