Jussie Smollett wasn’t enough. Incoming returns point to Kim Foxx winning a narrow majority of votes in the Cook County, Illinois, Democratic primary. The state’s attorney has 50.2 percent as of this writing, making her the presumptive favorite to win reelection in November. Her opponents tried to make the race a referendum on her handling of Smollett’s case last year; the former Empire actor claimed — falsely, according to the Chicago police — that he’d been assaulted by Trump supporters. Foxx’s office declined to file charges against him for lying.
The incumbent’s top challenger, billionaire scion Bill Conway, conceded on Tuesday with 31.3 percent of the vote, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. It was a convincing if not overwhelming margin. (Foxx won her first primary election with a more dominant 58 percent in 2016.) Foxx is viewed as part of a vanguard of more progressive prosecutors who’ve eschewed “tough on crime” orthodoxy for measures like declining to prosecute certain crimes and pursuing alternatives to imprisonment, and Conway ran to her right, casting her as too lenient. But his pitch wasn’t compelling enough, either on its own merits, those of its vessel, or due to the field’s breadth: Conway’s professional career has been largely in the private sector, specifically finance; his fellow challengers, Donna More and Bob Fioretti, split the anti-Foxx vote too much for it to consolidate behind one candidate.
Still, it wasn’t a smooth race. Over the last year the Smollett case has become a culture-war hobbyhorse for many conservatives. The refusal of Foxx’s office to charge the actor smacked of “black privilege” and “leftist privilege,” some claimed at the time, whereby the black SA was ushering in a regime of racial cronyism to protect the black and famous. In fact, she’d ushered in a prosecutorial ethos that de-prioritized nonviolent crimes. Smollett was more standard beneficiary than dramatic outlier. And critics have yet to explain convincingly how throwing the book at him would’ve advanced public safety.
Meanwhile, Foxx’s tenure has overseen drops in both overall crime and incarceration rates. Her expansion of diversion programs and establishment of prosecutorial units dedicated to gun violence have delivered on campaign promises to be less punitive and make the public safer at the same time. Smollett was, for many detractors, reason enough to dash these gains. The right-leaning Chicago Tribune hosted an hour-long debate in January featuring Foxx and her challengers. A full 30 minutes was dedicated to grilling her over her handling of Smollett.
Now, barring the unlikely, Foxx will have at least four more years to continue her agenda. Her success on Tuesday speaks to the inability of her challengers to turn one unpopular decision into an election-determining scandal. But it does little to quell concerns about the resistance she’ll likely face moving forward. Aside from the negative attacks she’s faced during the primary campaign, she’s been protested by police unions and decried by pundits and pols, including President Trump. Her second term will be conspicuously devoid of goodwill from factions that regularly claim to privilege public safety above all else. Fortunately for her — and for many of the most vulnerable Chicagoans — she’s delivering the results she promised. Smollett is still being summoned to court to face the city’s ongoing ire; a special prosecutor recently filed many of the same charges against him that were originally dropped. But it looks very much like he’s no longer Foxx’s reelection year problem. Cook County should be as glad about that as she is.