Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez discusses the shooting of Ronald Johnson by Chicago police officer George Hernandez on Dec. 7, 2015 in Chicago, Ill.
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty

Chicago voters reject embattled prosecutor

All eyes were on election results in Ohio on Tuesday, but about 300 miles west, Democrats faced a major test in a Chicago primary.

Voters in Chicago’s Democratic primary rejected the city’s top prosecutor who was criticized for her handling of a case involving the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black teenager.

RELATED: Chicago police officer pleads not guilty in Laquan McDonald shooting

Anita Alvarez conceded the race to her challenger Kim Foxx, an attorney who argued Alvarez mishandled the controversial case of Jason Van Dyke, a Chicago police officer indicted for murder in the killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald more than a year before.

“There was no justifiable reason, whatsoever, for a delay in charges of 400 days,” Foxx said in an interview with MSNBC on the eve of the primary

Alvarez, 56, was widely criticized for waiting to act until a court ordered release of the now infamous video of the shooting. The ensuing controversy led the police chief to resign, and to weeks of protest and criticism of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The case also drew condemnation from all the Democrats running for president.

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Within and beyond Chicago, some Democratic leaders have argued that Alvarez should be the next to go.

The local county Democratic Party endorsed Foxx, 43, over Alvarez — an unusual break with an incumbent. Other Democrats have pulled their past endorsements and national figures, like musician John Legend, have lined up behind Foxx.

Beyond the single McDonald case, Alvarez has been battered by wider critiques of her approach, including clearing police officers in 68 different fatal shootings.

And Polls have showed Chicago Democrats were unhappy with her work.

Alvarez had called herself “a professional prosecutor” who is “not driven by politics.”

Foxx has experience within the same office, serving 12 years as an assistant prosecutor. That not only gives her experience, she says, but a detailed sense of how to avoid Alvarez’s recent mistakes.

“I’ve seen firsthand,” she told MSNBC, “the issues with the State’s Attorney and how she administers justice, and the absence of discretion — the absence of real discernment on cases.”

RELATED: Why did it take 400 days to charge Van Dyke?

During several controversies over police shootings, Mayor Emanuel emphasized that the city has to defer to ongoing investigations by local and federal authorities. Foxx says that approach can be a dodge, and she explicitly alleged Alvarez would invoke federal inquiries to avoid prosecuting powerful people in government.In this March 1, 2016, photo, Kim Foxx, a Democratic candidate for Cook County state’s attorney, and a former chief aide to the county board president, poses for a portrait after an interview with The Associated Press in Chicago. 

“I would not have hid behind a US Attorney’s office investigation for Civil Rights as an excuse for not doing my job,” she told MSNBC. Beyond police shootings, Foxx says she wants to focus the office on building trust with the community, combating gun trafficking and advancing diversity.

During a debate among all of the candidates last week, Foxx called the State’s Attorney’s office a “laughing stock.” A third candidate, Donna Moore, accused Alvarez of a cover-up in the McDonald case but Alvarez responded, saying she did not want to compromise the case.

Ultimately, a primary election for county attorney is not usually a major political event, but Democrats were watching this race closely to see whether voter anger over policing lasts longer than the headlines.

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Chicago voters reject embattled prosecutor