Cook County Democrats meet on state's attorney candidate endorsements

Craig Wall Image
Tuesday, August 15, 2023
Tense moments at Cook County Democrats' meeting on state's attorney candidates
Some contentious moments Tuesday could set the stage for a rough-and-tumble race for Cook County State's Attorney.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Some contentious moments at the Cook County Democratic Committee's meeting on candidate endorsements Tuesday could set the stage for a rough-and-tumble race for Cook County State's Attorney.

Toni Preckwinkle, who chairs the Cook County Democratic party, greeted Clayton Harris III, a former assistant state's attorney and current University of Chicago professor, with a big hug. He is her hand-picked candidate to be the next state's attorney.

"Never forget that our most important job is to get justice for victims. As State's Attorney my first move will be a hard reset with law enforcement we will need to collaborate and take on guns, carjackings, retail theft and more," Harris said.

His opponent, former appellate court justice Eileen O'Neil Burke, tried to make the case for experience over politics.

"There is a stark contrast between my opponent and I. I have decades of experience working in the courts at every level. My opponent has not been in a courtroom in 20 years," she said.

But Burke frequently found herself on the defensive as Preckwinkle flexed her political muscle through allies, including State Senator Robert Martwick, who pressed Burke about her campaign treasurer's history of voting in Republican primaries.

"I have been friends with him for three decades. He's good with money. I asked him to be my treasurer. He's not controlling my campaign. He's merely my treasurer, but good job. Rob. Really thorough vetting on that one," Burke responded.

Alderman Michael Rodriguez, another Preckwinkle ally, quizzed Burke about her support for a Republican judge. Burke said the Democrat was rated not qualified.

"I have been a lifetime Democrat. I have supported Democrats but I also think it's important to look at someone's qualifications and not just do a litmus test," she said.

When it came time for a vote, Harris won a unanimous endorsement. Preckwinkle defended her candidate.

"It's not only about experience, it's your ideology," she said. "I have more confidence in Clayton Harris that he shares my view of what we need to be doing in criminal justice."

Burke released a statement, saying, "I'm disappointed that the committee overlooked a woman with thirty years of experience in every corner of the courtroom to support a candidate who most recently lobbied against workers' rights on behalf of corporate special interests. With the implementation of the SAFE-T Act and other reforms on the horizon, this election is critical to the future of Cook County. As a former prosecutor, criminal defense attorney, and judge, I look forward to sharing my vision for public safety and restorative justice with the voters and building the best prosecutor's office in the country."

She said she still intends to run, despite not getting the party's endorsement. Preckwinkle said she is expected to be a tough race.