Spotlight Politics: Foxx Fight, Preckwinkle Aide Trouble

Actor Jussie Smollett is back in the spotlight and facing a fresh set of charges for allegedly staging a hate crime on himself.

The new charges brought by special prosecutor Dan Webb come just 35 days before a contested primary race for Cook County state’s attorney. Incumbent Kim Foxx, whose office in March 2019 made the stunning decision to drop the initial charges against Smollett, questioned that timing in a statement Tuesday, saying “the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office charged Jussie Smollett with multiple counts, and today the Special Prosecutor did the same. What’s questionable here is the James Comey-like timing of that charging decision, just 35 days before an election, which can only be interpreted as the further politicization of the justice system, something voters in the era of Donald Trump should consider offensive.

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Bill Conway, Bob Fioretti and Donna More, the other contenders in the Democratic primary seized on the development, issuing calls for her to drop out of the race and to immediately step down as the county’s top prosecutor.

Foxx has no plans to close the curtain on her career early.

But the latest act in the Smollett drama is sure to make for made-for-TV political theater leading up to the March 17 primary.

Typically, that’s too late in the primary calendar for even delegate-rich Illinois to make a difference on presidential nominees. But Illinois be a player on the national scene this year, given the lack of front-runner following Iowa’s caucuses last week and Tueday’s New Hampshire primary.

Meanwhile, a second aide close to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle – Foxx’s mentor – is facing discipline over sexual harassment. As first reported by Crain’s, special assistant Al Kindle was reprimanded following a sexual harassment incident. He has to undergo sexual harassment retraining, was suspended for five days, and must get his supervisor’s permission before going to the county building’s fifth floor office suites where the victim works. Kindle is quoted in Crain’s as apologizing for the incident, which was brought to the county inspector general’s attention via an anonymous complaint.

Preckwinkle previously fired a chief of staff, John Keller, following sexual harassment findings. After, she formed a sexual harassment tax force.

Below is a statement from Preckwinkle:

“Since taking office in 2010, my administration has made it a priority to ensure that all of our employees work in an environment that is safe and welcoming, that they understand how to report allegations of harassment when it happens and that those allegations are thoroughly and expeditiously handled. In the past year the County has done even more work to fulfill that commitment including having thoughtful discussions through our Anti-harassment working group about ways we can strengthen our existing personnel policies to increasing awareness of our staff and the importance of reporting through regular communications. In this incident, it is clear that the work we have done has placed us in a better position to respond to allegations made.

“Once I learned about this incident I met with my staffer and supported her. I advised the staffer to follow the reporting process and instructed my Chief of Staff to do the same. Our EEO office conducted an investigation. At the conclusion of their investigation, the EEO office recommended discipline and re-training of the employee. Without hesitation we followed the recommendation and my staff subsequently suspended the employee without pay for five days, mandated that the employee participate in a second Preventing Harassment training session and also restricted the employee’s access to the 5th Floor.

“A subsequent IG investigation into this incident found that my staff responded appropriately and timely to the allegation made, supported the victim, conducted a thorough investigation and that the appropriate discipline was imposed.”

Our politics team of Carol Marin, Amanda Vinicky and Paris Schutz digs into those stories and more.

Follow us on Twitter: @wttw | @CarolMarin@paschutz@AmandaVinicky 

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