* My syndicated newspaper column focuses on Secretary of State Jesse White…
It’s difficult not to contemplate how Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White has screwed up lately on so many fronts.
White has managed to mostly avoid scandals throughout his political life, and as a result has become one of the most popular Democratic politicians of the past half century— one year winning all 102 Illinois counties and later taking about 70 percent of the vote in the national Republican landslide of 2010 (Democratic state Attorney General Lisa Madigan won with 65 percent, and Gov. Pat Quinn won with less than 47 percent that year).
But White’s engineering of state Rep. Derrick Smith’s appointment to his old House seat was no doubt the biggest mistake White has made in his decades-long political career.
As you know by now, Smith (D-Chicago) was arrested on a federal bribery charge last week. Smith is White’s guy. There is no plausible deniability for White. He hired Smith at the secretary of state’s office, even after the Chicago Sun-Times discovered that Smith was involved in shenanigans at his city job, from which he was fired. White then put Smith into the House seat, even though Smith was the sort of person who could barely speak in floor debates.
Smith was an embarrassment even before he was arrested. He was in over his head and obviously lacking in skills. He was White’s hack, and everybody knew it. But at least Smith looked like a clean embarrassment. Now, he’s a dangerous embarrassment facing a federal felony charge.
Before the last election, White had promised that this would be his final term. But he changed his mind last year and said he would run again in 2014. It’s possible that the Smith arrest could cause him to rethink those plans. The high-profile bust has most certainly put some blood in the political waters.
Whether White runs again or not, this is the first time he has ever displayed any sort of political vulnerability. There are now visible cracks in his bright, shining armor. The political superman looks more human.
He’s done something that he’s never done before — handed his potential opposition a beautiful gift. “He’s an honest, standup kind of a guy,” White said after he engineered Smith’s appointment to the House last year. That’ll look great in a TV commercial … for his opponent.
White also defied legislative protocol this year by going after state Sen. Annazette Collins (D-Chicago). Collins was backed to the hilt by Senate President John Cullerton as she fought what turned out to be a losing battle to Patricia Van Pelt-Watkins.
Cullerton dumped more than $167,000 into the primary, an almost unheard of amount for a Senate race. That sort of involvement is usually a big warning sign to other pols to stay the heck away. Legislative leaders don’t like it when fellow party members challenge their authority over their caucuses.
This isn’t the first time that White has meddled in that Senate district, though. He backed candidates against former Sen. Rickey Hendon more than once.
And even though White seemingly picked a blue-chip candidate to challenge Collins (unlike the Smith debacle), and even though Collins is an appointee who hasn’t made much impact in the Senate, the Senate Black Caucus was very aggressive in making sure that Cullerton expended serious resources to defend her. As a result, this particular challenge has seemed to generate harder feelings against White than his past efforts.
This was the first time that any Democratic Party leader has so directly and bluntly challenged Cullerton’s authority over his caucus. In this business, if somebody disrespects you, then they’d better be made to fear you or that disrespect could spread to others.
White is attempting to fight off a 9 percent budget cut for the secretary of state’s office proposed by Quinn (who, like everyone but White, backed Collins). White has offered to cut 2 percent instead. Good luck with that.
White needs to clean up his messes. And fast.
* Meanwhile, WUIS’ Amanda Vinicky caught up with Speaker Madigan on Friday…
Since the election, top Democrats including the governor, Chicago mayor, and even Smith’s mentor and former boss, Secretary of State Jesse White, have called on Smith to resign.
But not Madigan, who says he hasn’t talked to Smith since his arrest earlier this month.
“No, I have not spoken with Derrick,” Madigan said.
“And I’m not going to offer any comments or opinion because I’m leading the investigation. I’m the one who created the committee, appointed the chair and so I don’t plan to offer any comment or opinion or direction.”
Madigan is talking about a special committee, formed at the request of House Republicans, that will meet Tuesday to look into the allegations.
* But Mayor Emanuel weighed in…
Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Friday jumped on the bandwagon of Democratic politicians demanding the resignation of state Rep. Derrick Smith (D-Chicago) because of the federal bribery charges against Smith.
“I do not think — while Mr. Smith won the primary — that his name should be on the ballot in November,” Emanuel said.
“He’s already shown a violation of the code of conduct that comes with the honor of serving the public.”
* As did Tom Swiss…
Not even Swiss thinks Smith should resign.
“He was arrested, he wasn’t convicted,” Swiss said. “He wasn’t convicted of anything as of now.”