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Kim Foxx Survives Heated Race For State's Attorney, Amid Jussie Smollett Controversy

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx won her bid for a second term on Tuesday, easily defeating three challengers, despite a yearlong controversy over her office's handling of the Jussie Smollett case overshadowing her efforts to reform the office.

Foxx's closest challenger, former Cook County prosecutor Bill Conway, called Foxx to concede Tuesday night. With more than 80% of the vote counted, Foxx led Conway 47.8% to 32.7%. Former federal prosecutor Donna More had 14.3%, and former Ald. Bob Fioretti had 5.1%.

Foxx thanked her supporters after Conway called her to concede. She also lamented that the Smollett case had dominated much of the discussion in the race.

"To everyone who rallied around this race that made it bigger than one thing, one issue, who rejected the notion that we would talk about one singular case and not what mattered to the people of Cook County, and put everything on the line for this, I thank you," Foxx said.

Conway, virtually unknown before the race, made a name for himself in no small part thanks to at least $10.5 million in campaign donations from his billionaire father, William Conway, co-founder of the Carlyle Group, a D.C-based investment firm.

In his concession speech, Conway thanked voters for coming out "in these trying and unprecedented times" to cast their ballots during the coronavirus pandemic.

"Obviously, things didn't go our way today," he said. "This race was heated, but at the end of the day, as Democrats, we both care deeply about our justice system, and I hope Ms. Foxx is able to enact so many of the reforms that it desperately needs."

Conway's ads helped propel him to becoming Foxx's most serious challenger, with Foxx and Conway consistently polling far ahead More and Fioretti.

Despite being under intense scrutiny for the past year for her office's handling of the Jussie Smollett case, Foxx held a double digit lead over Conway in the most recent pre-election poll, although more than 30% of voters remained undecided just a few days before the end of the race.

In the Democratic primary in 2016, Foxx handily defeated former State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, who was badly damaged by her perceived mishandling of the Laquan McDonald shooting, before coasting to victory in the general election over Christopher Pfannkuche.

When she officially launched her re-election campaign last November, Foxx admitted she didn't handle the Smollett case well, but she has repeatedly touted her efforts to reform the state's attorney's office.

She has prided herself on her support for bail reform, to keep people charged with non-violent crime from being locked up for months before trial, simply because they can't afford to post bond. She also has pointed to her office's efforts to increase its focus on violent crimes, rather than small-time felonies like retail theft.

However, the Smollett case has dominated much of the conversation in the race, in no small part because her handling of the case remains under investigation by special prosecutor Dan Webb.

Last month, a special Cook County grand jury convened by Webb indicted Smollett on six new charges of disorderly conduct, accusing him of filing false police reports claiming he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack last year. Smollett has pleaded not guilty.

Meantime, Webb said his investigation of Cook County prosecutors' handling of the case is still open, saying his office has not reached any conclusions about whether anyone in Foxx's office engaged in wrongdoing.

Foxx has insisted her office handled the Smollett case the same way it has handled many others in which prosecutors dropped charges without a plea agreement.

However, Webb asked for examples of those similar cases, and so did CBS 2. We couldn't find any, and neither could Webb.

Foxx has faced intense criticism for her office's handling of the case, after prosecutors dropped disorderly conduct charges against Smollett just weeks after he was indicted, and without requiring him to admit guilt.

Even before police accused Smollett of staging a hoax, and still considered him a victim, Foxx tried to persuade then-Police Supt. Eddie Johnson to hand over the investigation to the FBI, after a supporter of Smollett reached out to her. Foxx has vehemently denied trying to fix the case for Smollett.

But her opponents have said she tarnished the State's Attorney's office with her handling of the case.

"Foxx was influenced to drop the charges by those who are politically powerful by celebrity, and that's unacceptable," More said last month. "We can't have two justice systems in our county."

"Ms. Foxx has repeatedly not told the truth throughout this entire investigation since her original claim she recused herself from this investigation and from this case," Conway said. "So frankly, I don't think we can trust anything Ms. Foxx is saying."

Fioretti has gone so far as to call for Foxx to resign outright.

"I think we need to restore the integrity, transparency, and accountability of the office, and the only way that can be done is by Kim Foxx resigning now," he said.

Fioretti also tried to have Foxx kicked off the ballot, claiming she didn't have enough valid signatures on her nominating petitions, but a review of her petitions by the Cook County Officers Electoral Board found she had far more valid signatures than required.

With the primary now over, Foxx faces former Cook County judge Patrick W. "Pat" O'Brien in the general election. O'Brien easily defeated Pfannkuche in the Republican primary on Tuesday, taking more than 70% of the vote.


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