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Democrats Mon Dec 14 2015

Alvarez Headed for Shoals on North Shore

Doings in Evanston this Sunday gave strong indication that State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, in her bid for re-election, is heading for some rocks along the north lakefront of Cook County as perilous as those that occasioned the erection of the historic Grosse Point Lighthouse in the 1800s. Bearing in mind, as an old Danish proverb goes, that it is always dangerous to prophesy, especially about the future, and that that danger is multiplied by trying to use orchestrated political events as tea leaves, the Democratic primary bid of Kimberly Foxx stands to gain a massive boost from both the Chicago wards and suburban townships of the shoreward persuasion.

Foxx, an attorney who is currently Chief of Staff for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, spent much of December 13 visiting primarily African-American churches in Evanston, where she reportedly received ovations just by being introduced as the candidate who is challenging Anita Alvarez. In the afternoon, she appeared at an "organizing meeting" of political heavyweights at the Hilton Gardens & Inn in Evanston, with a turnout of between 80 and 100 exceeding organizers' expectations and turning the event into more of a rally. Besides the Democratic committeemen from Evanston, New Trier, and Northfield townships and Chicago's 48th (Edgewater) and 49th (Rogers Park) wards, Democratic congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, state senators Heather Steans and Daniel Biss, and state representatives Robyn Gabel and Laura Fine were on hand, as well as numerous Evanston aldermen and other current and past elected and appointed local officials. Evanston Mayor Liz Tisdahl was absent but sent her regards and message of support. Finally and hardly least, many of the key activists and workers from the ward and township organizations that have not yet formally endorsed, but which will hold open endorsement sessions after the New Year, were on hand.

Overall it was as solid a showing of political strength and, perhaps more impressively, unity, as has been seen in some time in this highly-involved turf, where politics is sometimes blood sport but which, because of its high degree of involvement and awareness, can also be a barometer and influencer. Voters turn out in Evanston and the surrounding areas in higher-than-average numbers in even relatively uncontested primary years; if anything newsworthy or cause-like is in the mix, the effect for a candidate (such as for Barack Obama in 2008) can be large, even in down-ballot races. Unlike some regions where there is enormous drop-off from top to bottom of the ballot, if a voter in Evanston or Wilmette actually makes it out to vote in a primary, about 85% of the time he or she votes in races all the way down to judge and committeeman. The dynamics are similar for the lakefront city wards where turnout is lower but interest level of those who do vote is keen.

The combo of high registration, relatively high turnout, and high participation in lower-ballot races gave County Commissioner and Evanstonian Larry Suffredin healthy pluralities in these areas in his 2008 bid for State's Attorney. Evanston and New Trier gave Suffredin outright majorities and a combined 12,000-vote bump, with Edgewater and Rogers Park adding another 2500-vote plurality. While these margins were not enough to provide Suffredin a W -- he came in a close third in both the suburbs and the city -- they made the race tight.

In the 6-way melee of 2008, Alvarez was the field's sole female. 2016's is a more-digestible (for voters) three-way contest, between three women. It is unclear yet how the family money of the third candidate, Donna More, will impact the race, to say nothing of how Democratic voters at large will feel about her $2500 contribution to Bruce Rauner (assuming they ever hear of it) or that she voted in the 2014 GOP primary. But it is safe to say that, in the turf between uptown and Ravinia, voters will be informed about such matters.

Foxx is an impressive speaker with a compelling personal story, beginning with a childhood in Cabrini-Green. She evinces sincere passion about being driven to improve government and make the office of state's attorney work for the many who feel, especially of late, that the prosecutor's office is simply one more cog in the machinery tilted against average folks.

On top of her own considerable political pluses, Foxx will have the benefit of the emotion currently surging around Alvarez's handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting case, which, one must remember, is only the latest in a series of negative headlines for that office. Alvarez's treatment of the Northwestern University students who worked on wrongful-death cases remains a particular sore spot in Evanston. Foxx will be running in a presidential-year primary that, assuming Clinton, Sanders, and O'Malley are still on the ballot, will generate high interest and turnout tho likely short of the throngs that came out for Barack Obama. If anything, Sanders voters can be expected to be overwhelmingly anti-Alvarez.

It's no stretch to imagine that the wards and townships represented Sunday in Evanston could give Foxx a 25,000-or-more bump. If Suffredin had enjoyed such a plurality in 2008, he would have won the suburbs, in a race where a 17,000-vote swing would have changed the overall outcome.

It's a big county. Evanston, Wilmette, Rogers Park and their neighbors don't necessarily represent how an election will go down in Cicero, Pilsen, Norwood Park, or Englewood (tho Evanston is usually a pretty good predictor of how Oak Park and Hyde Park will go). Alvarez, in office for seven years, enjoys much higher name recognition than Foxx or More. Political calculus related more to who is friend or foe of Preckwinkle will play a part in many areas. But, on the north lakefront where "good government" still resonates, "Black Lives Matter" signs can be seen even in overwhelmingly-white neighborhoods, and many back up their beliefs by writing checks, the state's attorney race is taking on the nature of a Cause. Foxx is the beneficiary, able to run not just as the "anti-Anita" but with cred of her own. Sunday's launch signals an overwhelming "Cook County nor'easter" of plurality for Foxx, a hazardous wind for an Alvarez campaign that has already taken on a lot of water.

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