13 Days Later, O’Neill Burke Celebrates Victory in Democratic Cook County State’s Attorney Race

Eileen O’Neill Burke celebrates her victory in the Democratic contest for Cook County state's attorney at the headquarters of the Plumbers' and Technical Engineers Local Union 130 on April 1, 2024. (Heather Cherone / WTTW News)Eileen O’Neill Burke celebrates her victory in the Democratic contest for Cook County state's attorney at the headquarters of the Plumbers' and Technical Engineers Local Union 130 on April 1, 2024. (Heather Cherone / WTTW News)

Retired Justice Eileen O’Neill Burke celebrated her narrow victory in the race for the Democratic nomination for Cook County state’s attorney on Monday, 13 days after polls closed.

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University of Chicago lecturer Clayton Harris conceded about an hour after O’Neill Burke declared victory Friday afternoon after the latest vote count showed her leading by 1,566 votes in a race where more than 527,000 votes were cast.

“Democracy is messy,” O’Neill Burke said at the West Loop headquarters of the Plumbers’ and Technical Engineers Local Union 130, one of the first labor organizations to endorse her campaign. “But it works. This election is proof of that.”

O’Neill Burke put her experience as a judge, prosecutor and attorney in private practice front and center in her bid for state’s attorney. She promised to take a tougher approach to gun crimes and retail theft, while ensuring the office runs more efficiently.

“People told me everywhere they want to be able to go out at night and not be worried,” O’Neill Burke said. “They want to be able to ride on a safe public transportation system. People want illegal guns and assault weapons off of our street. Those are all things we all want. We can move this country forward.”

O’Neill Burke said the state’s attorney office under her leadership will seek to detain everyone charged with possessing assault weapons, those who are accused of threaten others with a gun and those charged with committing violent crimes on the CTA.

O’Neill Burke said criticism during the campaign that she would be “very hard on crime” was unfair.

“I want to be effective,” O’Neill Burke said. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to lock everybody up. That means we are going to implement programs that get people turned around. That’s my goal. That’s how we are going to measure our effectiveness.”

Although Cook County Democratic Party Chair Toni Preckwinkle backed Harris to replace State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, Preckwinkle congratulated O’Neill Burke on her victory, which is set to be certified, as scheduled, on Tuesday.

“As is evidenced by her support for the Pretrial Fairness Act and restorative justice, I know that we share the goals of reimagining our criminal justice system into one that is truly just, equitable and enhances public safety and represents the best interests of all Cook County residents,” Preckwinkle said in a statement.

O’Neill Burke will face Republican Bob Fioretti and Libertarian Andrew Charles Kopinski in November’s general election. That contest is unlikely to be close in heavily Democratic Cook County.

O’Neill Burke won the race by garnering nearly 54% of the votes cast in suburban Cook County. Harris, however, won Chicago, carrying 52% of the city vote, according to unofficial returns.

“I love Chicago, I love Cook County,” O’Neill Burke said. “I’m not giving up on Chicago. We needed a change.”

Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara said late Friday in a video posted to the police union’s social media accounts that his decision to endorse O’Neill Burke and encourage his members to vote in the Democratic primary, even if they are Republicans, was decisive.

“Your votes going to the Democratic Part this time made the difference to get Judge O’Neill Burke across the finish line to try and save this city before it is lost forever,” Catanzara said.

O’Neill Burke won 83% of the vote in the 41st Ward, home to many Chicago police officers, according to unofficial results.

O’Neill Burke did not directly respond to Catanzara’s remarks in a brief news conference after her victory speech, instead paraphrased former President John F. Kennedy, who said “victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan” after the Bay of Pigs debacle in 1961 and thanked “each and every person” who voted for her.

“Every vote mattered in this one,” O’Neill Burke said.

The race was jolted March 23 by the news that there were approximately 9,100 more ballots cast by Chicagoans to count than election officials had identified in statements to the news media, leading to unfounded charges of irregularities that both campaigns rejected.

Chicago elections officials acknowledged they also misstated the number of provisional ballots cast by voters on Election Day. Those ballots must undergo an additional layer of scrutiny before being counted. In most cases, provisional ballots are cast by those who requested a mail-in ballot but decided to vote in person for any reason.

Without evidence, Catanzara said that there was the “appearance of fraud or just the sniff of fraud” during the protracted vote counting.

“There was something shady going on when everybody thought for the last 10 days the steal was going to happen, here comes the Cook County steal,” Catanzara said, echoing language used by former President Donald Trump to baselessly allege that the 2020 election was not fair. “It didn’t quite get to where it needed to be, apparently.”

Catanzara also called for “the guy who runs the Cook County Board of Elections” to be fired. That organization does not exist; votes in the race for Cook County state’s attorney cast by Chicagoans were counted by the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, while ballots cast in suburban Cook County were counted by the Cook County Clerk’s Office.

O’Neill Burke said she was focused on the November contest and preparing to take over the State’s Attorney’s race when asked if she believed people should be fired as a result of the communications issues.

This story has been corrected to reflect that O'Neill Burke lives in the 3rd Ward in Chicago.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

A Safer City is supported, in part, by the Sue Ling Gin Foundation Initiative for Reducing Violence in Chicago. 

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