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The Alleged Crook vs. The Republican

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Chicagoans would rather vote for an alleged crook than a Republican -- obviously, because we’ve elected far more of the former than the latter.

That’s one reason that, despite his arrest for allegedly accepting a $7,000 bribe to write a letter of recommendation for a day care center, Rep. Derrick Smith will defeat Tom Swiss in next Tuesday’s Democratic primary. Swiss is the former executive director of the Cook County Republican Party who jumped over to the Democratic side of the ticket, because he figured it was the only way to get elected in his West Side district.

Despite his arrest, Democratic Party leaders would prefer to see Smith defeat Swiss. If Smith wins, West Side ward committeemen can force him to resign, and choose another candidate to run in November. If Swiss wins, they’re stuck with a candidate who’s not even a real Democrat.

But the process that resulted in Smith’s appointment is a great argument for taking that power away from ward committeemen, and replacing it with special elections. Last year, state Sen. Rickey Hendon abruptly resigned. To succeed Hendon, ward committeemen chose Rep. Annazette Collins. That meant they needed a replacement for Collins. The job went to Smith, a protégé of Secretary of State Jesse White. As committeeman of the 27th Ward, White had the most weighted votes. With his lackluster record of public service -- he was fired as 27th Ward superintendent for using city resources on private landscaping jobs -- Smith could never have been elected on his own. But he’d been a loyal precinct captain for most of his life, so White sent him to Springfield.

White’s other pick, Annazette Collins, has also turned out to be a dud, charged with not living in her own district, and with handing out legislative scholarships to young people who don’t live there, either. White now compares Collins to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, calling her “the most unethical person in government.” He is supporting former mayoral candidate Patricia Van Pelt Watkins in next week’s primary.

(The process that selected Smith and Collins is also an issue in the 1st Ward Committeeman’s race. Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno, who is challenging incumbent Jesse Ruben Juarez, is calling for special elections.)

Voters in the 10th District have an unappealing decision. They can vote for a candidate who’s facing a felony charge, and whose election will give Jesse White the opportunity to put another unethical hack in office. Or, they can vote for a closet Republican. This is Chicago. It won’t even be close.

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