‘Tough on crime’ image doesn’t benefit Alvarez


Cook County state’s attorney is not the kind of office in which longevity begets security.

A botched prosecution, an unwise plea bargain, a too-lenient sentence, a domestic abuser who gets more violent, an inept or overzealous courtroom assistant state’s attorney — any or all of those occurrences can lead to political disaster. Get in, get known, and get on to some other office.

The current incumbent, Anita Alvarez, is no exception. After 7 years in office, her critics are legion, her "tough on crime" approach is clogging County Jail, her courtroom plea-bargaining policies (or lack thereof) enrage defense attorneys, her hiring is preferential toward women and minorities, and her role in the Koschman/Vanecko voluntary manslaughter case makes her look like a political flunky. R.J. Vanecko, Richard Daley’s nephew, got 60 days in jail after a street brawl resulted in a death, and then only after a special prosecutor was named; the state’s attorney’s office dawdled for years in the case.

"She’s got to go." That was the unmistakable consensus at county Democrats’ preslating and slating sessions over the summer. Alvarez, who was elected in 2008, was dumped, and the slatemakers’ verdict was "no recommendation." That sets up a three-candidate March 16 primary between Alvarez, Kim Foxx and Donna More.

Each ward and township Democratic committeeman can endorse whom he or she chooses. The black committeemen, led by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, for whom Foxx recently was chief of staff, will coalesce behind Foxx, who is black. Alvarez has some South Side heft in the predominantly white wards, and she is backed by Ed Burke and Mike Madigan. More, a prosecutor when Daley ran the office, will spend lavishly. More’s hope is that Foxx and Alvarez muddy each other.

There are no term limits for state’s attorney, but there is a high attrition rate. Of the eight candidates who were elected since 1956, four were defeated in a general election, and of the two appointees, one was dumped and one was defeated. Only two, both Democrats, were able to use the office as a steppingstone. Daley, who was elected in 1980, became the Chicago mayor in 1989, after losing for that office in 1983, and Dan Ward, who served from 1960 to 196), became a state Supreme Court justice. A long-forgotten occupant, Tom Courtney, who served from 1932 to 1945, lost bids for mayor in 1939 and governor for 1944, before quitting to become a judge. Here’s the nowhere list:

Ben Adamowski (1956 to 1960): The boy wonder of Chicago Polish politics, Adamowski was elected state representative in 1931 at age 25 from the predominantly Polish Milwaukee/Ashland/Chicago ward where his father was the alderman. He served with Richard J. Daley in the Illinois House, and he lost statewide elections in 1940 and 1942. He and Daley both ran for mayor in the Democratic primary in 1955, with Daley as the slated candidate against dumped incumbent Martin Kennelly. The vote was 369,692-266,946-113,173, with Adamowski third with 15.1 percent of the vote.

Adamowski switched parties, ran in 1956 as a Republican against incumbent State’s Attorney John Gutknecht, and beat him with 56 percent of the vote, largely a result of the statewide Eisenhower presidential landslide (2,623,327-1,775,682). Daley understood the danger of having an adversarial prosecutor able to harass, investigate and indict as a Sword of Damocles. Daley recruited the nonpolitical Ward, a DePaul University law professor, to run in 1960, and the central issue was Adamowski’s use of office funds, called "contingency fees," to pay trial witnesses. John Kennedy won Illinois 2,377,846-2,368,988 over Richard Nixon, a margin of 8,858 votes, but Kennedy won Chicago by a huge margin of 318,736 votes, enough to give Ward a victory with 50.5 percent of the vote.

In 1963 Adamowski ran for mayor anyway, losing 679,497-540,705 and getting a respectable 44.3 percent of the vote, the best showing for a Republican since 1929 and to date. Daley’s 9-1 margins in the black wards saved him, as Adamowski won the outlying predominantly white wards 60-40 or better. Had Adamowski been re-elected in 1960, the 1963 result could have been different.

John Stamos (1966 to 1968) was the chief of the criminal division when Ward got his 1966 reward. The county board appointed Stamos to Ward’s job, but Greek Americans in Chicago didn’t (and still don’t) have much clout, and Stamos was "promoted" to the Appellate Court in 1968, clearing the way for Ed Hanrahan to be slated. In 1988 Stamos was elevated to the Supreme Court. Greeks who wait, it can be said, wait a long time.

Ed Hanrahan (1968 to 1972): As the Kennedy-appointed federal U.S. attorney, Hanrahan was the Daley machine’s logical choice for state’s attorney in 1968. Hanrahan’s horizons were bright. He wanted to be mayor in 1975 or after Daley retired, or governor in 1972. But then fate intervened — badly and unkindly. On Dec. 4, 1969, a squad of state’s attorney police officers, with a search warrant for illegal weapons, stormed a West Side apartment occupied by adherents of the Black Panthers, a self-proclaimed "revolutionary black nationalist" street gang dedicated to "black power." As described by the media, a "hail of bullets" erupted, almost all from the officers and, as was later determined, perhaps one from the occupants of the apartment.

As the facts slowly unfolded, rage in the black community exploded, and pressure on Daley to dump Hanrahan in 1972 grew. Judge Ray Berg was slated. Daniel Page Moore ran as a reformer. Hanrahan beat them both in the primary, with 41.5 percent of the vote, topping Berg by 101,000 votes. In non-Lakefront predominantly white areas, Hanrahan was a hero, not a villain. In the predominantly black wards, Hanrahan got 13 percent of the vote.

The Republicans fielded a credible candidate in Bernie Carey, a former FBI agent who lost for sheriff in 1970. "Anybody But Hanrahan" was the mantra. Nixon won Cook County by 171,039 votes, and Carey beat Hanrahan by 129,206 votes, getting 47.2 percent of the vote in Chicago and carrying 12 of 18 black wards. For the first time, black voters didn’t vote as the Daley machine directed.

Rich Daley (1980 to 1989): It was do or die for Daley, then a 42-year-old state senator, in 1980. His father died in 1976. His mortal enemy Jane Byrne was mayor. The Democrats slated Alderman Ed Burke to run against Carey, whose record was unblemished but lackluster. Daley needed to become a player. He filed for state’s attorney and ran against Burke and "Boss Byrne," and the result was a blowout, as he won 413,544-246,392 (with 62.7 percent of the vote). Daley won 60 percent of the Chicago vote and 70 percent in the suburbs. Ironically, Daley became the "anti-machine independent" — and a potential mayoral challenger.

Not to worry. Byrne just had to re-elect Carey. Astutely, however, the Daley campaign characterized the Daley-Carey race a referendum on Byrne, did its best to irritate the mayor, and eked out a 1,035,450-1,013,599 victory, with 50.5 percent of the vote.
Although he finished third in the epic 1983 Byrne-Washington-Daley mayoral primary, getting 29.9 percent of the vote to 33.6 percent for Byrne and 36.3 percent for Harold Washington, the "spoiler" tag did not stick, and Daley caught a big break: Byrne lost. Daley still had an office. When Washington died, Daley was perfectly positioned.

Jack O’Malley (1990 to 1996): Democrat Cecil Partee was a lifetime payroller whom George Dunne anointed as Daley’s successor, but the "Age of Washington" was over. Although he was black, Partee had minimal appeal to the black base. In the 19 black-majority wards, where Washington got 426,022 votes in 1987, Partee got 142,145 votes. O’Malley got 71 percent of the suburban vote, while Partee got 52 percent of the city vote.

An attorney in former governor Jim Thompson’s law firm, O’Malley was in the right place at the right time. He was re-elected in 1992 over Alderman Pat O’Connor (40th) with a stunning 62 percent of the vote, getting almost 40 percent of the black vote, but then O’Malley stumbled, prosecuting then-congressman Mel Reynolds for having sex with a minor. His black base imploded. In 1996 O’Malley got 41 percent of the vote to 47 percent for Democrat Dick Devine. Devine, an ally of Daley, served 12 uneventful years, laying nary a finger on the Daley Administration and ignoring the Jon Burge police scandal. By 2008 it was get out or get beat.

Anita Alvarez (2008 to the present): As Devine’s chief deputy and a onetime head of the public integrity unit, Alvarez was no courtroom terror. In fact, Devine endorsed his first deputy, Bob Milan.

There was no slating, but the frontrunner was Alderman Tom Allen, who had solid Northwest Side backing, while county Commissioner Larry Suffredin was strong in the north suburbs. With the field diffused, Alderman Howard Brookins (21st) had a chance, especially since the Obama-Clinton presidential race was driving black turnout.

Turnout was 917,737, and Obama got 70.7 percent of the Cook County vote, with 246,043 votes in the black wards, while Brookins got only 105,818 votes in his base.

Allen amassed 24.7 percent of the countywide vote, to 25.8 percent for Alvarez and 22.1 percent for Suffredin. Alvarez won by a 9,946-vote margin, carrying 16 wards and 10 townships and taking the 11th, 13th and 14th wards, the Hispanic wards and the liberal suburbs. Alvarez won due to Brookins’ collapse, a late Obama/Alvarez voter surge, a large field and a Daley double-cross of Allen.

The 2016 outlook: Alvarez has been begging for a federal judgeship, but the Koschman case is a millstone. Foxx must make the race a referendum on Alvarez, portray her as incompetent and susceptible to political pressure, and generate 250,000 votes in her black base. Alvarez must raise $1 million, portray herself as the victim of a political purge by "soft on crime" politicians (meaning Preckwinkle). My prediction: Foxx wins.

Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.