Eileen O'Neill Burke Wins Democratic Cook County State's Attorney Race

April 2, 2024 0 By JohnValbyNation

CHICAGO — In the race to replace Kim Foxx as the top prosecutor of the nation’s second largest criminal court system, an ex-appellate judge with the backing of major Republican donors and the head of the Chicago police union narrowly edged out an ex-government attorney and lobbyist handpicked by the chair of the county party.

With less than 1,600 votes to spare out of more than a half-million cast, retired 1st District Appellate Justice Eileen O’Neill Burke defeated University of Chicago lecturer Clayton Harris for the Democratic Party’s nomination for Cook County state’s attorney, according to unofficial results due to become official Tuesday.

O’Neill Burke, who spent a decade as a Cook County prosecutor and nearly as long as a criminal defense attorney before becoming a judge 16 years ago, celebrated her primary win Monday at the Chicago Journeymen Plumbers Local Union 130 hall on Chicago’s Near West Side. She launched her campaign at the same location last summer.

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Her win was fueled by voters in the north, northwest and southwest suburbs, as preliminary results showed O’Neill Burke winning by nearly 8 percentage points in the suburbs but losing by 4 points in the city.

“So even after this fierce campaign, I can say without hesitation that I spoke to people all over the county, all over the city, and what unites us is more than what divides us,” O’Neill Burke said, after thanking supporters. “People told me everywhere they want to go out at night and not be worried. They want to ride on a safe public transportation system. People want illegal guns and assault weapons off of our streets. Those are all things we all want. We can do that. We can move this county forward.”

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O’Neill Burke’s campaign was bankrolled by six-figure contributions from wealthy local financiers who have been past GOP donors after she took on Harris, a current University of Chicago lecturer and former staffer in the Blagojevich and Daley administrations turned lobbyist for ride-hailing corporations.

Harris conceded to O’Neill Burke Friday after The Associated Press called the race in her favor, 10 days after the last day of voting.

Final certification by city and county election officials takes place two weeks after an election, with state law allowing for any mail-in ballots postmarked on or before election day to be counted.

“We will keep pushing for a stronger conviction review unit, for an end to pretextual stops, and more,” Harris told supporters. “We’re not going back to the bad old days of wrongful convictions and coerced confessions in Cook County.”

Harris had been endorsed by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, whose former chief of staff Foxx declined to pursue a third term as state’s attorney, ahead of the Cook County Democratic Committee formal unanimous endorsement last August.

“As we move forward, I remain committed to ensuring that our criminal justice system serves every resident of Cook County with fairness, dignity and respect,” Preckwinkle said, in a statement congratulating the party’s nominee and odds-on favorite for victory in November. “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.”

Under bail reforms that took effect last year, judges may not detain people ahead of trial unless the state’s attorney’s office petitions for them to do so.

“We are at a seismic change in our society right now. We have things that are changing very, very rapidly, and elections are determining who gets to regulate those changes, who gets to move us forward in progress with the laws,” O’Neill Burke said. “These are important elections. This was an important election.”

At Monday’s victory event and brief news conference, the former judge told reporters she would push for the detention of people charged with assault weapons possession, violent crimes on public transportation and threatening others with guns.

While acknowledging the backing of the controversial boss of the Chicago police union, O’Neill Burke paraphrased John F. Kennedy’s remarks after the failed Bay of Pigs operations, WTTW reported, “victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.”

Although the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police did not formally issue an endorsement in the state’s attorney’s race, its outspoken chief John Catanzara, strongly urged the members of the city’s rank-and-file police union to back O’Neill Burke.

“This is an opportunity we are not given very often,” Catanzara said in a video. “This is more important than the mayor’s race so please consider a pulling a Democratic ballot, hold your nose if you have to but make sure you do it.”

Harris’s campaign manager, Alaina Hampton, said in response it was wrong for Republicans to “meddle” in Democratic primaries and suggested O’Neill Burke would back an “extreme MAGA agenda” and restore the county’s unofficial status of “wrongful convictions capital of America.”

At Monday’s victory event, O’Neill Burke said she was unfairly portrayed as too tough-on-crime during the campaign, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

“I want to be effective,” she said. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to lock everybody up.”

O’Neill Burke heads in the November election as the odds-on favorite against Republican nominee Bob Fioretti, a former Chicago alderman and perennial candidate was a Democrat until this opportunity to appear on the ballot became available to him.

Cook County voters have not elected a Republican as state’s attorney in more than 30 years.

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