Chicago Democrats, from Mayor Rahm Emanuel on down, were unusually vociferous in their condemnation of the decision Tuesday by prosecutors to let Hollywood actor Jussie Smollett off the hook for a hate crime hoax.
Smolett was facing 16 felony counts before the office of Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx (who had recused herself) dropped all charges. Emanuel called it a “whitewash of justice,” and other officials made similar comments.
One reason is simple: the facts in the case, as presented when Smollett was charged last month, are impossible to dismiss. Prosecutors, who bizarrely dropped the charges in recognition of Smollett’s past community service, said they had not exonerated him. And while Smollett claimed to have been “truthful” throughout, his own attorney blamed the attack on the Osundairo brothers — contrary to Smollett’s claim that his assailants had been white.
Another reason is the immense moral authority of Chicago Police Department superintendent Eddie Johnson, who gave an impassioned speech upon Smollett’s arrest about how outraged he was, as an African-American man, that Smollett had exploited the painful history and symbolism of racism for personal gain. Johnson reiterated Tuesday that he was still outraged and that he disagreed with the prosecutors’ decision. Few would wish to oppose Johnson.
But the most important reason Chicago Democrats are sounding off about a hate crime hoax — a topic that is almost taboo on the left — is that the runoff election for the next mayor of the city is in exactly seven days.
The contest will feature two African-American women for the first time. One is former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot, who would also be Chicago’s first openly gay mayor; the other candidate is Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
As with most Chicago elections, it is a nasty affair, despite the historic nature of the contest. One of the major issues is the treatment of black residents by the police department, even as crime continues to be a major problem in many black and Hispanic neighborhoods. The Smollett issue resonates powerfully within that debate: on the one hand, he was yet another black defendant within a flawed system; on the other, he allegedly wasted scarce police resources.
Enter U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL), a former Black Panther and Chicago institution who is the only person ever to defeat Barack Obama in an election (in the 2000 Democratic primary for Congress). Rush, who backs Preckwinkle, proclaimed last weekend: “If any young black male or female is killed by a police officer under a Lightfoot administration then the blood will be on those voters’ hands who elected her mayor of the city of Chicago.”
Rush — who, ironically, still wants Rep. Steve King (R-IA) censured by the House of Representatives for racially insensitive rhetoric — may have been speaking out of desperation. A recent poll put Lightfoot, a political outsider, 36 points ahead of Preckwinkle, 53%-17%.
Even more interesting is the fact that State’s Attorney Kim Foxx is Preckwinkle’s former chief of staff, and was recently described by the Chicago Sun-Times as Preckwinkle’s “political protégé.”
So what appears, at first blush, like an ideological intervention for a George Soros-backed prosecutor, or a political favor to the Obamas, or just special treatment for a Hollywood celebrity, may actually be something more typically Chicagoan: namely, a favor to a political patron.
Preckwinkle and Lightfoot are competing viciously for Chicago’s African-American vote, with no holds barred. That is why — for the moment — hate crime hoaxes can be debated.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.