Eileen O’Neill Burke wins Democratic state’s attorney primary

By Bill Dwyer for Chronicle Media

Democratic nominee for Cook County State’s Attorney Eileen O’Neill Burke posted a “thank you” to her supporters on her Facebook page. (Eileen O’Neill Burke Facebook photo)

Eileen O’Neill Burke has won the all but decisive Democratic primary race for Cook County State’s Attorney.

After 10 days of officials tabulating late-arriving mail-in votes and provisional ballots, the Associated Press declared Burke the winner late Friday afternoon, over opponent Clayton Harris III, following a week that saw a flood of post-election day vote tabulations fade to a trickle.

O’Neill Burke had endured watching her relatively comfortable 9,500 vote lead over Harris on election night erode in the days and weekend following March 19, as thousands of mail-in ballots received after election day arrived at the offices of the Cook County Clerk and the Chicago Board of Elections.

By Monday evening, her 9,500-vote advantage over opponent Harris was down to just 1,643.

But from Monday night on through the week, newly arrived ballot totals shrank from in the thousands to in the hundreds, what the CBOE’s Max Bever called “really more of a trickle.”

Approximately 2,500 mail-in ballots were tallied on Monday, after officials in the city and county processed 23,000 over the weekend. From then on Burke’s leads wavered between the low and mid-1,600s.

With just 474 votes tabulated on Tuesday, slightly favoring Harris. Then on Wednesday, nearly 2,000 votes were processed, and O’Neill Burke saw her lead widen by 39 votes.

On Thursday, Chicago and Cook County election officials tallied just 276 Democratic ballots in the race, shaving a handful of votes off O’Neill Burke’s uncomfortable lead, but it held largely unchanged.

Suburban county election officials tallied just eight ballots Thursday, with Burke receiving five and Harris getting three.

Around 4 p.m. Friday afternoon, shortly before the AP called the race for O’Neill Burke, she led Harris 263,667 to 262,038, a lead of 1,629, just 14 votes difference from Monday evening.

In a statement released Friday evening, O’Neill Burke said “It was worth the wait,” and said she was honored to be the Democratic nominee. She congratulated Harris for “a hard-fought campaign,” and looked to start healing the bruises from an intense and hard-fought campaign.

“While we may have had our differences in this election, we share a love for our beautiful city and Cook County,” she said. “If I’ve learned one thing during this process, it’s that there is so much more that unites us than what divides us.

“Across every neighborhood and every town in Cook County, people told me the same thing: we want a fair criminal justice system that works for everyone. We want a professional and effective State’s Attorney’s Office. We want illegal guns and assault weapons off our streets. We want less crime and safer communities, not by locking everyone up, but by turning people around.”

O’Neill Burke said the State’s Attorney’s office “has a noble mission to represent victims and uphold the law,” and said she considered it her “solemn obligation.”

Harris released his own statement, congratulating O’Neill Burke, and expressing pride in the “broad, diverse, grassroots coalition we built countywide with the vision of a criminal justice system that focuses on safety and justice. Where we keep every resident safe — no matter what neighborhood they live in, and where we do so in a just fashion.”

He said he remains committed to “the urgent work of criminal justice reform.”

O’Neill Burke and Harris were vying to fill the position being vacated by controversial two-term State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who declined to seek a third term. O’Neill Burke is now the overwhelming favorite against Republican Bob Fioretti and Libertarian Andrew Charles Kopinski in the November general election.