State’s atty. primary winner O’Neill Burke says it’s wrong to paint her as the “tough-on-crime” choice.

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Fresh from clinching the Democratic nomination for Cook County state’s attorney, Eileen O’Neill Burke on Monday acknowledged she must improve her messaging in a race in which she says she was unfairly cast as the tough-on-crime candidate.

The former appellate judge saw her Election Night lead over challenger Clayton Harris III dwindle from more than 10,000 to less than 1,600, as mail-in ballots were tallied over the course of 10 days. Early Friday evening, O’Neill Burke declared victory and Harris conceded.

Despite the nearly evenly split Democratic vote in the March 19 primary, she said she won’t change her positions in the run-up to the November election. She instead pinned the close race on “a question of messaging.”

“I think a lot of the concern was unfair that I was going to be very hard on crime,” O’Neill Burke said Monday during a victory speech at the Chicago Journeymen Plumbers Local Union 130 hall in the West Loop. “I want to be effective. That doesn’t mean we’re going to lock everybody up.”

Instead, she said she wants to implement programs that “get people turned around. That’s my goal. That’s how we’re going to measure effectiveness. Not how many people we lock up, but how many people we get turned around, how quickly we can get our crime rates down.”

“… And we will work very, very hard throughout this next campaign season until November to make sure every single community in Cook County understands what my positions are,” O’Neill said.

O’Neill Burke has said she supports expanding restorative justice alternatives to prosecution and praised outgoing State’s Attorney Kim Foxx on her office’s review of alleged wrongful convictions.

O’Neill Burke’s most consistent policy difference from Foxx was he push to charge retail theft as a felony for amounts over $300, as opposed to Foxx’s policy of setting $1,000 as the threshold. She also said she will seek to hold more people in custody under the SAFE-T Act, which eliminated cash bail in Illinois last year.

In November, she faces Republican challenger Bob Fioretti and Libertarian Andrew Charles Kopinski.

O’Neill Burke said she spoke with Harris by phone on Friday, when the Associated Press called the race in her favor.

“I got a call from Clayton Harris on Friday night, who congratulated me and I congratulated him on a hard fought campaign,” O’Neill Burke said. “Running for office is not for the faint of heart.”

She brushed aside a question about whether she owed her election to the endorsement of Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara, saying anyone who voted or campaigned for her can take credit.

O’Neill Burke likened the 10-day period of uncertainty after Election Night, where she saw her lead steadily erode as mail-in votes were counted, to a pregnant woman going 10 days past her due date.

“They will know exactly what I felt like for the last two weeks. It was very much an up-and-down roller coaster ride,” she said.

O’Neill Burke said that during that period, she and her husband were screaming “Oh my God, when is this going to be over? That was basically the mantra that we both had.”

She acknowledged that the rise in mail-in voting created a messy, drawn out election process that’s likely to become the new reality.

“It’s no longer an election day,” she said. “Now with early voting, with mail-in voting, it’s an election season.”

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