By Jayette Bolinski | Illinois Statehouse News
SPRINGFIELD – Indicted state Rep. Derrick Smith will be on the ballot come November.
His challengers? Well, no one knows for sure.
Objections are pending for the filing petitions of all three challengers for the incumbent’s seat.
In an ironic twist, no objections were filed against the petition for Smith, who may be kicked out of the House in the coming weeks. His paperwork was filed in November.
One challenger, Lance Tyson, appears poised to give Smith a run for his money in November.
Tyson is a Democrat – just like Smith. Both are black candidates in a predominantly black, predominantly low-income but historically well-organized 10th House District on Chicago’s west side.
Here’s the rub: Tyson has the backing of the state’s Democratic machine – something Smith had until after the primary election. But the word “Democrat” won’t come after Tyson’s name on the November ballot.
Things get even trickier, as voters will have to know to look for “Unity Party,” the party Democrats set up when they chose to run Tyson against the embattled Smith in an effort to retain control of the seat.
That could be a problem for Democrats, one Illinois political observer said.
“Tyson is favored to win, even though the Democrats will have to do considerable work to make sure the voters in the district know the true Democratic candidate,” said Dick Simpson, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a former Chicago alderman.
Simpson said Smith automatically will get 10 percent to 20 percent of the vote from people who don’t know any of the candidates but want to vote Democrat, as well as from those people aware that Smith is — or was — a legislator for a little more than a year.
“My assumption is Smith isn’t going to campaign because he’ll be busy fighting his corruption charge. He hasn’t been much of a state legislator, so I don’t expect him to be much of a campaigner,” he said.
Tyson is a well-connected Chicago attorney with ties to both former Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley and former Cook County board president Todd Stroger. Campaign filings this week show no donations yet to Tyson’s campaign. He used just more than $2,600 of his own money for mailing services, office supplies and travel.
But White is hosting a fundraiser for Tyson on Tuesday at 312 Chicago, a restaurant in the Chicago Loop. An individual ticket is $150. And the list of endorsements on Tyson’s site already includes numerous politicians, such as White, various Chicago aldermen, Cook County officials and two state representatives, Daniel Burke and Jack Franks, both Chicago-area Democrats.
Smith’s campaign filings this week show he had about $42,000 in his campaign fund at the end of June.
“Smith really has no chance of getting re-elected,” said Kent Redfield, a political science professor at the University of Illinois-Springfield. “He has no support from the Ward organizations in the district and will not be able to raise any money from interest groups, who will not want to have their names on campaign disclosure documents as having given him money.”
It’s not too late for Tyson to make up the fundraising difference, Simpson said, noting that most political campaigns don’t start until around Labor Day, when voters become more focused.
Calling Smith “an embarrassment to the Democratic Party,” Simpson said the real issue is whether Democrats will help Tyson raise money.
“Will Tyson be able to use his contacts with corporations he developed from the time he was in the county board office as chief of staff? Will any political figures, like Rahm Emanuel, endorse him?” he said. “All of that is still to be seen.”
Smith’s Republican challenger is Kimberly Small, a moderate and a businesswoman. No records could be found about her campaign at the Illinois Board of Elections.
Joseph W. Sneed Jr. is running against Smith as an independent. His last campaign filing was in March for the quarter ending Dec. 30. At that time his fund had $128.
Redfield said the House no doubt will vote to expel Smith.
“The Ward organization and Jesse White’s organization will provide all the ground troops and money that the ‘independent’ candidate will need to win,” he said.
Smith, who has been in Legislature just more than a year, is accused by federal prosecutors of accepting a $7,000 bribe in connection with his job as a lawmaker. A bipartisan committee of his House colleagues on Thursday voted to recommend he be kicked out of the House. Only one, Rep. Al Riley, D-Olympia Fields, voted against the recommendation.
The matter now goes to the House for a vote and must have a two-thirds majority to pass. Lawmakers could be called back for a special session to vote, but it is unclear when that might occur.
“I would think the general mood and interest of the House of Representatives would be to dispose of whatever recommendation the committee makes as soon as possible,” Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, said Wednesday.
If lawmakers vote to remove Smith from the House, they would be kicking him out of the 97th General Assembly, which adjourns later this year. The 98th General Assembly convenes in January. That means Smith, if re-elected in November, could reclaim his seat in the House then. Nothing prevents a legislator who has been expelled from seeking re-election, and lawmakers cannot expel a colleague more than once for the same offense.
Simpson said he expects the House will vote to expel Smith.
“It’s in many ways a pretty standard corruption case, particularly because the prosecutors do have him on tape,” he said. “And, obviously, all the political figures believe it to be true. If there was a doubt about him being guilty, they wouldn’t be backing a candidate to run against him. They would give him the benefit of the doubt.”
Jayette Bolinski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.