Opinion: Dems Deserve Derrick Smith - NBC Chicago
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Opinion: Dems Deserve Derrick Smith



    I hope Derrick Smith wins re-election to the Illinois House of Representatives in November.

    I’m not excited about seeing an alleged felon in Springfield. I’ve seen enough of those already. But the Democrats appointed Smith to that seat, and they should have to live with the consequences. Smith may end up serving as an example of why legislative vacancies should be filled by special elections, not closed-door meetings of ward bosses and county chairmen.

    The Democrats, led by Secretary of State Jesse White, wanted Smith on the November ballot. In March, after he was arrested for allegedly soliciting a $7,000 bribe to write a letter in support of a day care center, White asked voters to choose Smith over Tom Swiss, a Republican masquerading as a Democrat in the primary. Smith won.

    White then expected Smith to step aside, so he could appoint another candidate to run on the Democratic line. Smith wouldn’t do it. Not even after he was expelled from the House. He needs the money. In 2005, Smith was fired from his job as 27th Ward Streets and Sanitation Superintendent, accused of using city resources to perform private landscaping work. In spite of that work record, White appointed Smith to the state house to replace Rep. Annazette Collins, whom he had appointed to replace retiring state Sen. Rickey Hendon.

    White and other West Side ward bosses have cut voters out of decisions regarding their state legislators for years. Now, in an effort to prevent Smith from returning to Springfield, they’re running a candidate under the banner of the invented “Unity Party” -- Lance Tyson, former chief of staff to Cook County Board President Todd Stroger. But at least 90 percent of the district’s voters will be voting for Barack Obama, and after that, they’ll plunk for the rest of the Democrats on the ballot -- including Smith. A We Ask America poll shows Smith beating Tyson, 48 percent to 9 percent. These are low-information voters who turn out every four years. Since this is Chicago, they don’t pay much attention to legislative races.

    Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and House Speaker Michael Madigan are doing nothing to rescue White from this predicament of his own making. They’re refusing to endorse Tyson.

    Jesse White didn’t trust the voters to decide who’d represent them in Springfield. So he made an even worse decision, and now he’s asking the voters to bail him out. If Smith returns to the House, he can’t be expelled again, although he will lose his seat if he’s convicted on the bribery charge.

    In which case Jesse White can appoint another state representative to replace him.