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West Side Democrats rally for arrested legislator

Monday, Mar 19, 2012

* Abdon used the word “audacious” to describe this rally. I’d have to agree

In the parks, churches, bowling alleys and VFW halls of Illinois, candidates for president, state supreme court, state representative and every office in-between made their last-minute pitches before Tuesday’s primary elections.

Perhaps the most audacious plea came from West Side Democratic elected officials who urged voters to support an Illinois House member charged with bribery. It looks bad, they acknowledged, but it will prevent the seat from falling into the hands of Republicans.

The rally in support of appointed state Rep. Derrick Smith (D-Chicago) featured U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), three aldermen and a county commissioner and even adopted a catchy moniker: “No defeat or retreat — keep the Dem seat.”

“There’s nothing wrong with being a Republican, except that if people are going to vote for a Republican, they ought to know they’re voting for a Republican,” Davis said, referring to Smith’s Republican-turned-Democrat rival, Tom Swiss.

* More from Congressman Davis

“We know that our colleague is charged with criminal activity, Davis said at a press conference outside the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago. “But we also know that a charge is not a conviction.”

Still, Smith is not doing much to explain his innocence. He was not at the press conference and his campaign has not returned repeated messages seeking comment.

But Davis and others acknowledged their push is as much about Smith’s opponent as it is about Smith himself. Tom Swiss is the only other candidate running in the Democratic primary, and - as Davis pointed out - Swiss has held leadership positions in the local Republican Party.

“We want to make sure that we don’t elect a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Davis said.

* Gov. Pat Quinn avoided weighing in on the race when pressed over the weekend, saying it was “tough call for voters,” but one “they’ll be able to sort out.” Tom Swiss responds

Swiss, the former executive director of the Cook County Republican Party — who is white but uses images of African-Americans on billboards and mailers in this predominantly black district — teed off on his critics: “I think it’s inexcusable that they’re reinforcing the culture of corruption by asking voters to support Derrick Smith, a man that was arrested and caught red-handed for taking a bribe,” Swiss told the Chicago Sun-Times.

* And here’s my take via my syndicated newspaper column

State Rep. Derrick Smith (D-Chicago) hasn’t been in the House very long, but few would’ve picked him as a future legislative star. He stumbles badly during debates, isn’t well informed on the issues and has obviously had a lot of trouble getting his arms around his new job.

In other words, he probably won’t be missed.

Smith was arrested last week on federal bribery charges. The feds say a campaign worker allegedly told them that Smith was anxious about fundraising problems and was willing to trade favors for checks. After being told that a day care center owner was willing to pay big bucks in exchange for an official letter requesting a $50,000 state grant, Smith allegedly pounced on the opportunity.

Smith’s fundraising problems were abating, however. Just before his arrest last week, his campaign had reported raising about $57,000 from several established state political action committees over the previous few days.

No longer in dire need of campaign money, Smith apparently decided to get some cash for himself. He allegedly worked it out with the campaign worker that he wanted $7,000 in cash from what turned out to be a fictitious day care center owner. Smith rejected a cashier’s check because he didn’t want a paper trail, but then he offered to kick back part of the bribe via check to the campaign worker.

Now, first of all, what person with even half a brain believes that a day care center owner has $7,000 in cash lying around? And what kind of idiot would also believe that the aforementioned day care center owner would be willing to give that $7K to someone like Smith, an appointed, back-bench freshman lawmaker, in exchange for a grant recommendation letter?

I mean, really, a grant letter from Smith is supposed to be some sort of slam dunk? You’d have to be truly stupid to believe this was a “legit” offer.

And, secondly, you’re going to write the campaign worker a kickback check as part of your grand scheme? Really? Hello? Is anybody at home in that cranium?

Rep. Genius came to the General Assembly courtesy of Secretary of State Jesse White, who is also Chicago’s 27th Ward Democratic committeeman, despite the fact that Smith had been fired from his city of Chicago job a few years ago. The Chicago Sun-Times discovered that Smith had “used city equipment and personnel to do private landscaping work and improperly used state-financed Earnfare workers to lighten the load of city employees.”

It ain’t easy to get fired from a city job, but Smith somehow managed to, and White dutifully hired him at the secretary of state’s office. And then, despite Smith’s questionable past, White installed him in the House when state Rep. Annazette Collins (D-Chicago) was appointed to the Senate after Sen. Rickey Hendon retired.

White has been trying to obtain a foothold in that particular House district for years to no avail. He fought hard with Hendon. White never really got along with Collins when she was in the House either. When he helped appoint Collins to the Senate, White told the media that Collins had probably just promoted herself out of a job. White also controlled neither former state Rep. Art Turner nor Turner’s son, Art Turner Jr.

Smith’s appointment finally gave White his long-sought foothold. Once White took care of that, he picked a candidate to challenge Collins in the Democratic primary — Patricia Van Pelt-Watkins, who ran for Chicago mayor last year.

Smith’s political sponsor is Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), White’s handpicked alderman. Smith and Burnett grew up together in Cabrini Green, the notorious public housing project where White has recruited members of his world-renowned Jesse White Tumblers team.

White issued a statement last week, saying he was “disappointed” in Smith. But White said infinitely more than House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), who was completely mum on the bribery charge.

There is, of course, a tricky political dimension to this arrest. Smith’s Democratic primary opponent, Tom Swiss, has been a Republican for years. Swiss is a former director of the Cook County Republican Party and is a white man running in a majority black district.

If Madigan called on Smith to resign, it would essentially have meant letting a Republican into his caucus. Some things transcend mere bribery arrests.

- Posted by Rich Miller        


36 Comments
  1. - Levois - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 11:11 am:

    Whew, you’ve said more than a mouthful about this story! There were a lot of things said about this situation that wasn’t said in any stories in the media. A lot more dynamics here than I could’ve imagined.

    Will Jesse White be hurt by this? Something tells me he won’t but then it’s safe to say he has egg on his face.


  2. - mark walker - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 11:15 am:

    A choice between an alleged bribe-taker, and a known political fraud.

    Boy, our politics sure attracts some “beauts” as candidates.


  3. - Bill - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 11:16 am:

    “Rep. Genius”….lol


  4. - Bubs - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 11:23 am:

    Smith’s campaign efforts on the streets of the 10th District have collapsed. There has been no SEIU blitz, no nothing. It is more likely that Mike Madigan and Jesse White are looking at a independent candidate for November rather than trying deal with the money and hassle involved in trying to save Smith, leaving the local guys to plead for Derrick.

    So this is far from over, even if Swiss somehow manages to win tomorrow.


  5. - just sayin' - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 11:24 am:

    Tom Swiss isn’t just a former GOP operative, he was also an elected Republican Ward Committeeman right up until the time he filed his petitions a few months ago as a Dem for state rep. Everyone knows he only gave up the Republican party positition because he knew it would make his con harder to pull off.

    In this case it’s hard to blame the Dems for staying with Smith (for now) who is at least not as dishonest as Tom Swiss.


  6. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 11:25 am:

    Right about …. “now” … Swiss is thinking, “Ya know, I thought that arrest would help, Maybe Smith getting arrested ain’t going to help so much …”


  7. - Levois - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 11:26 am:

    “Rep. Genius”….lol

    LOL! I like that myself! :P


  8. - OurMagician - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 11:27 am:

    It’s stories like this that make me wonder why Jesse White is such a sacred cow when it comes to opposition in the SOS races.


  9. - Newsclown - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 11:33 am:

    No, this is too much party loyalty over common sense. I’d rather see Madigan throw money at an independent or temporarily lose the seat than waste a dime at keeping this “genius” going another day. Nothing shows better how much the system is broken than this particular kabuki dance and playing along makes us a national laughingstock. Don’t play. Repudiate Smith, congratulate the winner, and start from scratch with better candidates next time. The fact the system let Smith get this far shows how far it has broken down. Will losing this one seat lose Madigan his majority? No. he should do what he does best, look ahead to the larger game. Fighting for Smith diminishes Madigan’s stature and hurts his moral authority, without any decent payback.

    Get out of a bad deal, don’t double-down. You held your nose and doubled-down, sticking with Rod for the second term, Mike; how much bigger a lesson about this do you need? You’re supposed to be the Smart One.


  10. - reformer - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 11:34 am:

    The Dem slogan should be, “Better an indicted pol who is a genuine Democrat than an ersatz Democrat.”
    I predict voters in the House district will opt for the indictee.


  11. - Plutocrat03 - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 11:35 am:

    And this is why Illinois remains on the downward track..

    The inept alleged criminal of our party is more desirable than any member of the opposing party.

    Go team


  12. - Lakefront Liberal - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 11:40 am:

    “- Bubs - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 11:23 am:

    It is more likely that Mike Madigan and Jesse White are looking at a independent candidate for November rather than trying deal with the money and hassle involved in trying to save Smith, leaving the local guys to plead for Derrick.

    So this is far from over, even if Swiss somehow manages to win tomorrow.”

    ^^This. Though the “local guys” would also do well to save their energy. I highly doubt either of these two will be elected in November.


  13. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 11:42 am:

    ===Don’t play. Repudiate Smith, congratulate the winner, and start from scratch with better candidates next time.===

    You have heard of Mike Madigan …I am trying to remember when MJM chose “giving up” versus … pulling a rabbit out of a hat … Nope, can’t think of a time.

    MJM will not be dictated to if he can still control an outcome favorable to … MJM.


  14. - Shore - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 11:44 am:

    reformer-you get good marks for usage of the word ersatz. 1. Isn’t there ethics training for legislators to tell them not to do this stuff? 2. I congratulate cook county democrats. You didn’t even wait until Blago’s body was buried in federal prison until your next stupid scheme.


  15. - IdealisticTrue Believer - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 11:45 am:

    I’m sure the voters of this district will make a rational, well informed and good choice tomorrow, just like in all elections. The voters always put the best interests of society above all other concerns. That’s why we put the question to the masses.

    I wouldn’t beat up on Mr. Swiss too much. After all, because of what he’s done the people get to choose. Just think, if Swiss had not thrown his hat in the ring the people couldn’t have a choice between two candidates tomorrow. Their vote would be meaningless in this race.

    Swiss is only doing what’s SOP for many good, respected Republicans. I can think of Doug Ibendahl, who worked to advance the Constitution Party last election cycle, and has worked against many of the people’s choices of GOP nominees in the past, and is still an honest Republican. He runs a Republican news site and Rich quotes him. He is still respected, I think.

    And remember what Teddy Roosevelt said about the man in the ring. At least Swiss is out there competing.

    And giving us something to write about.


  16. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 12:00 pm:

    ===I wouldn’t beat up on Mr. Swiss too much. After all, because of what he’s done the people get to choose. Just think, if Swiss had not thrown his hat in the ring the people couldn’t have a choice between two candidates tomorrow. Their vote would be meaningless in this race.===

    If you believe all you typed about Swiss, you may want to change your name to “DelusionalTrueBeliever”

    Have you read all about what Swiss, and what Swiss is about in this race?


  17. - anon - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 12:03 pm:

    First off Smith hasn’t even said if he will resign to allow for a replacement to be named. I am totally disgusted by this whole story. The dems called for Rods impeachment within days of his indictment, they didnt have to wait for a conviction with him. Why the double standard now? So we can avoid a GOP operative from holding a back bench seat in the GA for one term?

    Our elected officials are supposed to be leaders, but they refuse to lead. Its time for the leaders of the Democratic Party to call on Smith to resign or file a motion for impeachemnt. Again, rfemeber thats exactly what they did with Rod. They also had no provblem forcing Scott Cohen out o because of actions unrelated to the office he sought.

    Is Smith planning on staying in the GA the rest of this year. Will the public have to continue to pay his salary while we wait for the inevitable guilty verdict? It is no wonder why we are laughing stocks nationally.


  18. - Carl Nyberg - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 12:25 pm:

    The Democratic Party has enough muscle to beat Swiss with a write-in candidate.

    But the Dems don’t have enough muscle to beat Swiss with a corrupt do-nothing. The Dems would have to run somebody credible.

    What the Dems want is for Smith to win the primary so they can replace him with a corrupt do-nothing.


  19. - D.P. Gumby - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 12:29 pm:

    hmmm…Is the Solidarity Party still around?


  20. - Anon - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 12:40 pm:

    “” I’m sure the voters of this district will make a rational, well informed and good choice tomorrow, just like in all elections. “”

    This has turned into a circus ! The Blacks dont want a Swiss (white man) representing them, do you honestly think that Swiss wouldnt represent the Black Community to his full potential? What the voters should be asking themselves is what did Mr. Smith do for us? Or is he just a spoke in the wheel as a yes man ! If Smith is elected Tuesday it will be a sad day that a Indicted Official is elected because of his color, and people are just darn afraid to say it.


  21. - Anon - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 12:41 pm:

    How many signatures do you need to run as an independent?


  22. - Davey Boy Smithe - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 12:43 pm:

    Any chance we can get Alan Keyes involved in this race?


  23. - train111 - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 12:47 pm:

    So let me get this straight:

    The 27th Ward Democratic Committee who foisted this clown upon us, now want us to vote for him, so that when he in all probability resigns from the ticket after the primary, they can foist upon us the next clown of their choosing.

    Democracy–gotta love it!!

    train111


  24. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 12:53 pm:

    You can hear the Ole Precinct Captains already …

    “I don’t care who ya vote for in the other races, but you gotta give me Smith for State Rep.”


  25. - Rich Miller - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 1:26 pm:

    ===do you honestly think that Swiss wouldnt represent the Black Community to his full potential?===

    You’re obviously coming late to this story.


  26. - Anonymous - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 1:34 pm:

    With such “extremely low information voters” in Smith’s district, they are proably better off having their legislators chosen for them, just as they are in most of the state (I believe, of course, that we get only the political choices we are allowed to have). Good thing we don’t have open primaries, or who knows what kind of decisions voters would make?!


  27. - Skeeter - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 1:37 pm:

    What? You are telling me Democrats would prefer a nominee chosen by Democratic Committeeman instead of a Republican nominee?
    I’M SHOCKED!
    In other news, I hear there is gambling at Rick’s. That’s also a shock.
    Where is Inspector Renault, when he is most needed?


  28. - hammer - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 1:53 pm:

    This whole thing stinks. Blago’s doing 14 years and those people who worked so hard to get him elected are in the same position they were in a decade ago, or more powerful. This Smith debacle is going down and the 27th’ll pick his replacement. What needs to happen is when one of your charges screws up is you lose 50k in contributions, or something. Think of it like college sports. You don’t graduate your kids, lose a couple scholarships. Your athletes are shooting and robbing and making trouble, lose 10 scholarships and probation. Congressman gets caught misappropriating funds, you lose a staffer or two. Politics is sport. If your charge is a screw up, the institution that sponsored that screwup should feel it.


  29. - Lakefront Liberal - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 2:07 pm:

    Forgot about the committeeman angle. So yes, if Smith wins then he will be pressured into withdrawing and the local Dem committeeman will choose a replacement to be on the ballot as the Dem nominee in the fall. If Swiss wins they will have to run someone against him as an independent which will be infinitely more difficult.


  30. - Robert - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 2:12 pm:

    ==Why the double standard now? So we can avoid a GOP operative from holding a back bench seat in the GA for one term?==
    Yes. Sad penny-wise/pound-foolish, ethically challenged behavior.


  31. - 42nd Ward - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 3:06 pm:

    When I think on how many “Repubican” office holders and Party officials in Cook County are deeply entrenched with the Machine, this outrage over Swiss seems sadly comical


  32. - Anon - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 4:37 pm:

    Rich Im not late, I believe that a guy deserves a chance to do his job, whether a D or R, white or black. Just because he was or is a R, its his job or he loses it in the next election. Voting for a guy who sounds pretty much guilty from the quoted & taped by the informants remarks is just plain insanity. I dont agree with either, one an indicted goof, the other a fraud for lieing to get elected, but lets just say he isnt the only frauds that are on the ballot throughout the city and state on Tuesday thats a fact, Mr. Capitolfax.


  33. - Conservative Veteran - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 5:12 pm:

    Tom Swiss will probably win, although he’s more conservative than the majority of Democrats. Sen. Mark Kirk is more liberal than many Democrats, so it would be fair, if at least one conservative is elected, as a Democrat, in Illinois.


  34. - Judgment Day - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 6:02 pm:

    Smith will likely win, but then should be immediately replaced.

    And we have just the right candidate….

    The CPS director of nutrition support services, Louise Esaian.

    “The report said Esaian and two members of her staff were given gifts worth at least $86,000 from two food companies who have done business with the district since 2007.

    The gifts include an estimated $20,000 in Green Bay Packers tickets and concessions, as well as expensive meals, gifts and liquor.”

    Link is: http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20120317/news/703179797/

    Just think, if the limit for ‘gratuities” is a max. of $50.00 per incident, the 3 of them are good for approx. 1,720 ‘incidents’. If that’s 1 per week per person, it’s only about 11 years worth per person.

    She’s perfect for the state legislature as a replacement for Rep. Smith.


  35. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 6:19 pm:

    ===Rich Im not late, I believe that a guy deserves a chance to do his job, whether a D or R, white or black. Just because he was or is a R, its his job or he loses it in the next election. Voting for a guy who sounds pretty much guilty from the quoted & taped by the informants remarks is just plain insanity. I dont agree with either, one an indicted goof, the other a fraud for lieing to get elected, but lets just say he isnt the only frauds that are on the ballot throughout the city and state on Tuesday thats a fact, Mr. Capitolfax. ===

    When you get caught up on who Tom Swiss is and what his role is in this race, AND what he has said about the voters in the district … let us know.

    If you DID read anything posted here over that week and STILL think as you do … I dunno what to say …

    Also … everyone who is counting out MJM and Jesse White carrying the day … then you get all the bad you think you get.

    This is as real as it can get with Madigan, and he rarely loses.


  36. - In the Sticks - Monday, Mar 19, 12 @ 8:55 pm:

    And all those support letters submitted with the early childhood grant applications weren’t even considered in making evaluations by the evaluation team - maybe they will be by someone important before the final decisions are made.


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          * Durbin lauds 'Mr. Cub' in Senate commemora......

          * Top Democrat tries to slow Iran sanctions ......
          * Democrats say they won't support Iran sanc......
          * Senate's swing-state Republicans break ranks...
          * Iran Wins Sanctions Relief Despite March T......
          * Ranking Democrat on banking panel tries to......

          * Kinzinger blasts Obama Administration's terrorist policy on Fox & Friends
          * The [Tuesday] Papers
          * Human Rights Hotspots: Middle East [video]
          * Human Rights Hotspots: Asia [video]
          * Saving Congress from Itself: Emancipating the States and Empowering their People
          * Illinois Watchdog Radio - Live on IR
          * Legal Marijuana Fastest Growing Industry - and Tax Source - In The U.S.
          * DNA Info: Alderman Wants to Bring Coffee Shops, Bars to Desolate State St. Stretch
          * DCP 9th ward candidates forum...
          * State Rep. Ives Files Legislation in Response to COD President Buyout Deal


          * Rauner announces “Turnaround Team” - Stellar team to help turn Illinois around
          * Commerce Department to Review Proposals for Enterprise Zones - Program Promotes Job Growth in Communities Across the State
          * Governor Rauner signs Executive Order for Minority and Veteran Empowerment
          * Governor Rauner Announces Second Round of Appointments
          * Representative Duckworth, US Army Iraq Veteran Honored With The Abraham Lincoln Veteran Champion Award




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