Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx announced Tuesday she will not run for a third term, putting control of the second largest prosecutor’s office in the country up for grabs in November 2024.
“I didn’t set out to be a career politician,” Foxx said during a lunchtime address at the City Club of Chicago. “I had a mission and agenda that I knew I wanted to achieve, which was fairness, justice and equity. I feel that I have done that.”
Foxx, 51, will leave Cook County government after a bruising eight years in office, marked by controversy over her handling of high-profile cases as well as two surges of crime and violence in Chicago: one that peaked shortly after she took office while the other, triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, has yet to fully recede.
“I leave now with my head held high, with my heart full,” Foxx said.
Foxx’s address was combative, defiant and emotional and featured a fierce defense of her record in office. Crime and violence dropped during her first three years in office, only to reverse that trend beginning in 2020.
“I refute the supposition that where we see ourselves today with the rise in crime and violence that coincides with a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic is somehow the result of the Cook County state’s attorney’s office,” Foxx said. “It just doesn’t add up. It just doesn’t. It feels convenient. To suggest that this administration is somehow responsible for the rise in violent crime is disingenuous at best. And a lie.”
The first Black woman to serve as state’s attorney, Foxx was one of several prosecutors across the country who was ushered into office on a progressive wave that promised to reshape the nation’s criminal justice system. Among her goals: to eradicate systemic racism and ensure that Black and Latino people are not disproportionately targeted by law enforcement agencies.
“I should not be the inspiration,” Foxx said. “I should be the expectation.”
Foxx replaced former State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez in 2016 after progressive groups abandoned Alvarez in the wake of the public outrage spurred by the release of dashcam video showing now former Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times in 2014.
Foxx easily defeated Alvarez amid criticism that Alvarez and other Cook County officials were too slow to charge Van Dyke with a crime and had not done enough to hold police officers criminally accountable for misconduct.
Foxx vowed to modernize the state’s attorney’s office while refocusing the office’s resources on violent crimes as well as firearms trafficking. Foxx also prioritized efforts to review potential wrongful convictions. From 2017 to 2021, Cook County led the nation in the number of exonerations, making Chicago the wrongful conviction capital of the world.
Foxx said her efforts to free those wrongly imprisoned caused the most “consternation” among her critics, but said she was deeply proud of that work, which overturned approximately 200 convictions.
Soon after taking office, Foxx joined her political mentor, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, in pushing through changes to the county’s bail system, which allowed the release of people charged with some non-violent offenses, pending the resolution of their cases. Foxx also significantly changed the way her office dealt with retail theft, reserving felony charges for cases when the value of the stolen goods exceeded $1,000 or the defendant has 10 prior felony convictions.
Business leaders said that change helped fuel a surge in thefts from stores, an assertion Foxx rejected.
Foxx said the reforms were necessary to ensure that poor residents of Cook County — many of them Black and Latino — were not held in jail before their trials, while wealthy defendants could post bail and be released.
“Without apology, my efforts on bail reform were centered in the Black and Brown community,” Foxx said.
Those efforts put Foxx at loggerheads with the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 7, the union that represents most rank-and-file Chicago Police Department officers. That tension escalated when Cook County bail reforms were adopted statewide, part of a law under review by the Illinois Supreme Court.
Foxx rarely shied away from the spotlight during her time in office, urging state lawmakers to legalize marijuana in 2019 and backing a movement to expunge the convictions of those guilty of simple possession. Approximately 15,000 people in Cook County had their records expunged, Foxx said.
Foxx also set her sights on music superstar Robert Kelly, charging the Chicago native better known as R. Kelly with aggravated sex abuse of three girls. Kelly would be convicted of federal charges in New York before returning to Chicago to stand trial and be convicted by a Cook County jury.
But the national spotlight burned Foxx after actor Jussie Smollett reported to police that he was the victim of a hate crime near Navy Pier. After being contacted by one of Smollett’s relatives, Foxx urged then-Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson to turn the probe over to federal authorities.
That intervention backfired when Smollett was charged with 16 counts of disorderly conduct after police determined he staged the attack on himself. Criticism of Foxx reached a crescendo when her office dropped the charges against Smollett, and eventually led to several probes.
While investigations of Foxx’s conduct did not accuse her of wrongdoing, the charges against Smollett were eventually reinstituted and he was convicted.
During her speech Tuesday, Foxx said she was besieged with questions about Smollett, whom she referred to several times as a “D-list actor” who committed a low-level felony against himself.
Foxx said “it makes me mad” that her epitaph will include mention of Smollett, but not those wrongfully convicted after being framed by “corrupt Chicago detectives.”
“But you want to ask me about Jussie,” Foxx said repeatedly, as she introduced several people in the audience who were the victim of police misconduct.
Despite the blistering criticism of her handling of the Smollett case, Foxx won the March 2020 Democratic primary in the race for state’s attorney, defeating now-Ald.-elect Bill Conway (34th Ward.)
Foxx had the endorsement of Mayor Lori Lightfoot in that race, even as Lightfoot repeatedly criticized Foxx’s office for failing to keep those charged with violent crimes in jail before their trials, saying it was helping to fuel an increase in crime, echoing criticism from the police union and Republican officials.
Foxx insisted that only a fraction of those released before trial went on to commit another crime, and that the changes were necessary to make the system more fair for those who could not afford to pay to be released.
Foxx went on to defeat a Republican challenger in the 2020 general election, winning a new four-year term amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the pandemic, the state’s attorney’s office was beset by departures, exacerbating the office’s backlog of cases amid the surge of crime and violence. Similar problems occurred across the country, amid the “Great Resignation” spurred by the pandemic.