Kim Foxx, the Chicago prosecutor who faced intense criticism for her handling of the case of Jussie Smollett, the actor charged with staging a racist and homophobic attack, took a major step toward re-election on Tuesday with a victory in the Democratic primary.
Ms. Foxx’s closest rival, Bill Conway, a former prosecutor, conceded the race for state’s attorney in Cook County, Ill., which includes Chicago, in a call to the incumbent late Tuesday. With 82 percent of precincts reporting, Ms. Foxx had 48 percent of the vote, according to unofficial totals, and The Associated Press declared her the winner. Two other candidates were running well behind.
She will face a Republican opponent in November, Pat O’Brien, a former prosecutor and judge. But the county is heavily Democratic, and the party’s nominee typically wins countywide elections.
Ms. Foxx was elected Chicago’s chief prosecutor in 2016 with promises to change the criminal justice system, defeating her predecessor, who had come under heavy criticism for delaying prosecution of a white police officer in the death of a black teenager.
She quickly reordered her office’s priorities. Like other district attorneys who have been elected in recent years on progressive platforms, she prosecuted fewer nonviolent crimes and redirected those resources toward ramping up the prosecution of gun crimes, a priority of Chicago police officials.
Her leading rival in the primary race, Mr. Conway, who served in Naval intelligence and is the son of a billionaire investor, criticized some of Ms. Foxx’s approach, but much of his platform was similar to hers. In one commercial, he pledged to “stop locking up nonviolent people” and to pursue cases that would curb illegal weapons in the city.
Instead, the campaign was largely a referendum on how Ms. Foxx’s office handled the case of Mr. Smollett, a star of the Fox television show “Empire,” who police say orchestrated a racist and anti-gay attack on himself in January 2019 to boost his career.
Ms. Foxx removed herself from the case in February 2019, saying she had earlier had contact with representatives of Mr. Smollett. A month after that, her office dropped charges against him related to filing a false police report, saying he was not a threat to public safety. A judge then appointed a special prosecutor to review the case, and a grand jury indicted Mr. Smollett last month on charges of lying to the police.
Mr. Conway relentlessly attacked Ms. Foxx over the case, accusing her in another commercial of having “rigged the rules for connected celebrities.” He financed his ads using a more than $11 million war chest that was almost entirely donated by his father.
The city’s largest police union also hammered Ms. Foxx, asserting that she had failed to enforce the law and calling on her to resign. Her supporters said the union attacks were motivated by her increased scrutiny on police misconduct, including vacating more than 90 convictions tied to one corrupt former sergeant, Ronald Watts.
Ms. Foxx, who won endorsements from a wide number of local and state Democratic leaders — including Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Senator Dick Durbin and Chicago’s mayor, Lori Lightfoot — has acknowledged that she “should have done better” and been more transparent about the Smollett case.
But she also has called the extensive focus on the case “B.S.” and criticized the timing of the new indictment so close to the election. Her supporters complain that the case has taken attention away from profound improvements she has made in the criminal justice system during a time that murders and shootings in Chicago declined.
Ms. Foxx says her policies, focused “on the drivers of violence,” played a role in that drop.