Nine sitting or recent members of the Illinois General Assembly have been charged with federal crimes since 2019. State Sen. Emil Jones III is the latest. He faces bribery charges in connection with the state’s notorious red-light camera scandal, and has entered a not guilty plea.
Preceding him are four former Senate Democratic colleagues, Thomas Cullerton, Terry Link, Annazette Collins and Martin Sandoval (who died in 2020); a former GOP state senator, Sam McCann; former House Speaker and Democratic kingmaker Michael Madigan; and onetime Democratic state Reps. Luis Arroyo and Eddie Acevedo.
If nothing else, that list should serve as a sobering reminder that dismantling the culture of corruption staining Illinois politics must be a top priority for prosecutors at every echelon of government. That includes the office of Illinois attorney general.
For years, we have argued candidates running for state attorney general should carve out a bigger role in tackling corruption in Illinois politics. One of Lisa Madigan’s biggest shortcomings when she served as Illinois attorney general from 2003 to 2019 was her unwillingness to pursue public corruption cases, principally because of the conflict posed by her father, Michael Madigan, who wielded enormous clout as House speaker and chief of the Illinois Democratic Party.
When Democrat Kwame Raoul took over as state attorney general in January 2019, we hoped he would chart a different course and assume a larger role in going after corruption. He didn’t. Now, however, he tells us he is working to expand the attorney general’s jurisdiction over public corruption cases.
It will take a change in state law to make that happen, but Raoul says his team has made recommendations to the General Assembly’s Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform to broaden the AG’s authority over corruption cases, as well as to ramp up the powers of the Legislative Inspector General’s Office. That office is the General Assembly’s watchdog, but lawmakers had weakened the IG’s powers to a point where one-time Inspector General Carol Pope called her office “a paper tiger.”
Raoul’s goal isn’t to usurp the work of federal prosecutors, who have ably gone after a vast array of public officials on corruption charges, most notably Michael Madigan. The point is to augment, collaborate where needed, and more aggressively work to ensure that corruption no longer persists as a defining characteristic of Illinois politics.
Another key task on the shoulders of the state attorney general involves ensuring the Chicago Police Department’s compliance with the consent decree, the 2019 court order that lays out steps the city must take to reform the department in the wake of the 2014 murder of Black teenager Laquan McDonald by a Chicago police officer. Until Chicago police can show substantive evidence of reform, residents of Black and Latino neighborhoods will continue to harbor deep mistrust of law enforcement, and consequently avoid cooperating with police investigators probing the ceaseless cases of violent crime.
We like the commitment to consent decree implementation that Raoul’s office has shown. When Chicago police Superintendent David Brown fired Robert Boik, CPD’s executive director of constitutional policing and reform, we told Chicagoans that Brown’s decision marked a big step backward. Brown was moving members of Boik’s staff to patrol duty, and Boik told Brown the move would set back officer training mandated by the consent decree.
Raoul shares our concerns. “Our concern was that (Boik) seemed committed to moving the process along,” Raoul told us. The fact that Boik’s defense of officer training factored into his termination “was also something we had concern about.” The Chicago Police Department has repeatedly shown that it needs external oversight to ensure it complies with the consent decree, and we’re heartened to see Raoul embrace that role.
In 2021, Raoul responded to the rise in organized retail crime by creating a statewide task force that improved dialogue among law enforcement, retailers, online marketplaces and state’s attorneys to help crack down on organized retail theft rings. Organized theft is estimated to cost retailers across the country as much as $45 billion in annual sales, and entails both the smash-and-grab thefts seen at high-end stores along Michigan Avenue in recent years, as well as sophisticated operations that target merchandise in trucks and railroad cars.
The task force is starting to yield results, including an investigation that led to the discovery of more than $1 million in stolen retail merchandise hidden in storage units, Raoul told us. Indictments stemming from the probe are expected soon, his office said.
Running against Raoul are Schaumburg lawyer Daniel Robin, a Libertarian, and downstate lawyer Thomas DeVore, who defeated Deerfield attorney Steve Kim and former Cook County prosecutor David Shestokas in the Republican primary in June. DeVore, who has the words “freedom” and “liberty” tattooed to his forearms, is best known for pursuing a series of challenges to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s pandemic-related executive orders.
What else should Illinoisans know about DeVore? He once griped in a Facebook post about an episode at a basketball game in which students struggled to give him correct change at a concession stand, the Tribune reported last month. In the post, DeVore wrote, “Lord help us with the window lickers, I mean special children.” After the post was widely shared, DeVore filed a libel suit in 2017 against three people, alleging they had falsely accused him of ridiculing children with special needs. DeVore dropped the lawsuit in 2020.
He also sued Pritzker after the governor, responding to a question at a news conference about DeVore’s legal challenges to his pandemic mandates, called DeVore “a grifter.” DeVore dropped the lawsuit in March, as he mounted his primary campaign for attorney general.
DeVore has chosen to not take part in the Tribune’s endorsement process, but that doesn’t really matter. Too often his response to critics is to simply sue them. We find him unqualified for the job.
Raoul pledges to expand the attorney general’s jurisdiction over corruption cases, and Illinoisans should hold him to that pledge. In this important race, he is clearly the best qualified candidate.
Raoul is endorsed.