By Jayette Bolinski | Illinois Watchdog
CHICAGO – Thought last month’s expulsion vote was the last time indicted state Rep. Derrick Smith would have a key to the Illinois House? Think again.
A new poll this week suggests Smith, a Chicago Democrat accused of taking a $7,000 bribe, may find himself back in his seat come January, even though his colleagues kicked him out Aug. 17 in the first House expulsion in more than a century.
The poll, conducted by We Ask America and first reported this week on the Capitol Fax political blog, shows Smith leading challenger Lance Tyson 48 percent to 9 percent. The automated poll of 556 registered voters in the 10th District on the west side of Chicago was done Sept. 12. About 43 percent of those polled said they are undecided. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.15 percentage points.
“Polls do not necessarily reflect what is going to happen on election day, so if you’re trying to predict accurately the exact outcome of an election, it’s not going to be the same as this poll,” said Dick Simpson, political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a former Chicago alderman. “(Polls) tend to over-represent people with high name recognition and incumbents. So all those things skew the results as a barometer.
“Nonetheless, it does indicate Derrick Smith could well win the election despite being thrown out of the House on impeachment and being indicted by the federal government.”
If Smith regains his seat, his House colleagues will not be able to expel him again for the same reasons.
A couple things are at play in the poll results, Simpson said. Although Smith only had one term in the House, he still has name recognition in his home district. More people know who he is than know Tyson, a politically connected Democrat running on a third-party ticket.
Another factor is that black voters “can be pretty forgiving of African-American politicians who have minor infractions,” Simpson said. He cited former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington as an example. During the 1983 mayoral election, Washington’s opponent made issue of his conviction for failing to file tax returns and complaints that he had not represented all his clients in a timely fashion while he was a lawyer. Carried by the black vote, Washington narrowly won the election anyway.
The same type of scenario could play out with Smith, but only if he avoids a conviction in the federal bribery case against him before the November election.
“It shows a certain level of willingness to forgive that would not be true after a conviction in the case of Smith,” Simpson said. “If he were convicted, not only could he not run legally, but the poll results would be different.”
Tyson is a Democrat, but is running on the Unity Party ticket. The Unity Party was set up by Democrats when they chose to run Tyson against Smith in an effort to retain control of the seat.
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. He also has the backing of Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White.
However, Chicago Sun-Times political columnist Carol Marin this week reported that both House Speaker Michael Madigan, also a Chicago Democrat, and Democrat Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle have declared neutrality in the Smith-Tyson campaign.
Representatives for the Tyson and Smith campaigns were not available for comment Wednesday afternoon.
So is Tyson down for the count? Not necessarily.
His challenge now is to reach voters in the district, and the way to do that is with a lot of money and a lot of precinct captains willing to go door to door on his behalf, Simpson said. Some ward committeemen are not strongly behind Tyson because they had other candidates in mind for the ballot.
Simpson said that Tyson needs at least three direct mailings to every household between now and the election, and they all need to highlight Smith’s problems and Tyson’s strong points. It’s not unusual for a heated campaign to involve nine or 10 mailings at this point heading into an election.
“I would say Lance Tyson still has a good chance of winning the election because I think the major media will probably spotlight this more with editorials and endorsements and maybe major news stories as we get closer to the election,” Simpson said. “At the moment, it probably is true that if you had the election today Derrick Smith would be elected. But we’re not holding the election today. We’re holding it in November.”