* 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.