Indicted state rep wins back seat

After being removed from house, Derrick Smith headed back to Springfield

11/07/2012 2:06 PM

Ben Meyerson and La Risa Lynch
Editor and Contributing Reporter

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Indicted former state representative Derrick Smith quietly answered questions Tuesday after winning the house seat from which he was expelled.
DAVID PIERINI/Staff Photographer

Indicted former state representative Derrick Smith hugs a supporter Tuesday after winning the house seat from which he was expelled.
DAVID PIERINI/Staff Photographer

Derrick Smith, the former state representative who was accused of taking a bribe and subsequently booted from the Illinois House, is headed back to Springfield.

Smith won the race for Illinois’ 10th District House seat in dominant fashion Tuesday night, beating his opponent Lance Tyson 63 percent to 37 percent with 98 percent of precincts reporting.

The U.S. Attorney’s office charged Smith with accepting a $7,000 bribe last spring. Smith allegedly accepted the bribe in exchange for recommending a day care program for a state grant. The day care program did not exist — the operation was a sting.

Smith was arrested just a week before the Democratic primary in March, but still ended up winning that election in a landslide. In large part, that’s because Illinois’ heavy-hitter Democrats came out in force to support the accused candidate, pounding the pavement to convince voters not to vote for Smith’s primary opponent, Tom Swiss. Their argument? That Swiss was the former chair of the Chicago Republican Party and couldn’t be trusted.

But after the election, Smith refused overtures from Democratic leaders to step down, and the same Democrats who came out in force to support him turned on him.

So Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, the leader of a group of committeemen who picked Smith and backed him in the first place, then picked Todd Stroger’s former chief of staff, Lance Tyson, to run as a third-party candidate against Smith in the general election.

But, Tyson got off to a slow start and didn’t really begin campaigning until September. By then, the gap was too big to be bridged.

Although Smith was expelled from the House, he remained on the ballot. And now that he’s headed back, House rules say that he can’t be expelled for the same reason twice. That means he’ll be the district’s representative unless he gets convicted of accepting the bribe.

On Tuesday night, speaking alongside Tyson before the candidate’s concession speech, at Mahoney’s, 551 N. Ogden Ave., White said they got beat by themselves.

“We were beaten by our own organization,” White said.

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), speaking alongside White and Tyson, elaborated on that.

“If it was a heads-up situation, both of them started running at the same time, this wasn’t a third-party scenario, Lance would win this race,” Burnett said. “But because it was a third-party situation, people are not accustomed to voting against Democrats, especially when you’re pushing so hard for Barack Obama, and you’re saying ‘Democrat, Democrat, Democrat’ and everyone else is the demon, or whatever the case may be, it’s an uphill battle.”

When asked whether he regretted backing Smith in the primary, even after his arrest, White said no. Smith’s opponent, Swiss, was just too untrustworthy.

“We were concerned about the seat that could possibly go into the hands of a Republican — not that we have a problem with that, so much — but it was the way that he addressed himself,” White said, referring to Swiss, a white man, putting his name on a campaign billboard under a picture of a black construction worker.

“I think that if you are seeking a position and you are being deceptive, I don’t know if we can trust you, if you happen to become the representative of the district,” White said. “And as it turns out, we ended up being bitten by another gentleman that we supported, but no, we don’t have any regrets.”

Smith was greeted warmly by a handful of supporters when he arrived at his election night headquarters at the JLM Abundant Life Community Center, 2622 W. Jackson Blvd. in East Garfield Park. Smith thanked his supporters and the voters who stuck by him even with bribery allegation hanging over his campaign.

His win, he said, is not a vindication of the General Assembly’s efforts to remove him from his 10th District House seat. But the win shows the will of the people, he said.

“Everyone has their choice, and they made a choice, but the people spoke,” Smith said. “I just want to thank everyone for the support that they have given me, and I’m looking forward to representing the 10th District in Springfield.”

Smith credited his win to getting the truth out as to who the real Democrat was. His opponent, Tyson, ran on the tagline that he was the “real Democratic” candidate. Smith said he’s been in the political arena for over 32 years, and a Democrat all his life, “and today we are showing everyone who is the real Democrat.”

“I just told the truth,” he said. “The gentleman that ran against me doesn’t live in the district, and he couldn’t vote for himself.”

When asked if it would be tough working with the same legislature that expelled him, Smith said he had no reservation about going back to the General Assembly.

“I’m in this as a state representative to represent the people, and that’s why I know it wouldn’t be difficult, because I know I have the people behind me,” Smith said.

Former Ald. Ed Smith, who has been Derrick Smith’s staunchest supporter, was a bit more critical. He noted some politicians, including Gov. Pat Quinn, overstepped boundaries by supporting an individual who was not the people’s choice.

“The people who were opposed to Derrick Smith wasn’t listening to the people,” said Ed Smith, who is of no relation to the state representative. “And I think they were terribly impetuous when they expelled him the first time. All we had to do to avoid all of this was to work with Derrick Smith.”

He said the move to expel Derrick Smith was akin to convicting him without a trial. He said the U.S. Constitution says a person is innocent until proven guilty, and Smith was not afforded that opportunity.

“I can tell you the people out here are not going to forget what happened here,” Ed Smith said. “People don’t have short memories when it comes to these kinds of things.”

However, Derrick Smith wanted to make one thing clear: He said there was never a deal for him to step aside once he beat Tom Swiss in the primary, in order for the Democratic Party to pick a replacement candidate.

“I never made a deal with anyone,” Smith said. “It wasn’t hard for me to stay in the race.”

Smith said his next challenge is clearing his name.

“I’ll have my day in court,” he said. “I am talking to my attorneys and trying to get them to expedite the process, and we’ll deal with that when it comes.”

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