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Stopping Smith

Friday, Sep 28, 2012

* My Sun-Times column

I first met Maze Jackson when he was running the Chicago and suburban ground game for Gov. Pat Quinn’s Democratic primary campaign.

He’s brash, smart, funny, with a mind that can go a dozen directions at once. I couldn’t help but like the guy. And now Jackson is running his toughest campaign ever.

Jackson is managing Lance Tyson’s uphill race against indicted former state Rep. Derrick Smith (D-Chicago). Smith was expelled from the House in August, months after being arrested for allegedly accepting a $7,000 bribe.

There is no legal way to kick Smith off the ballot, and he refused to drop out of the race. If he wins, the House can’t use the indictment to kick him out of office again because the Illinois Constitution forbids such a move.

A poll taken two weeks ago showed Smith with a huge 47-9 lead over Tyson, with the remainder undecided, so things don’t look good for Maze Jackson right now.

Tyson was picked by the district’s ward committeemen to challenge Smith after Tyson threatened to spend thousands of dollars of his own money whether or not he was chosen. Some committeemen had their own candidates in mind, but they begrudgingly went with Tyson after Secretary of State Jesse White intervened on his behalf. White engineered Derrick Smith’s appointment to the House, so he’s being held responsible by the powers that be for defeating Smith in November.

White drafted Jackson as Tyson’s campaign manager. Jackson knows the West Side legislative district well, having run Ald. Walter Burnett’s campaigns.

Jackson thinks the poll, taken by We Ask America, showed lots of residents were choosing their candidate on party lines. If a pollster asks a West Side Democrat how he or she plans to vote, they will naturally pick the Democrat. Jackson says he has to convince voters that his candidate is “the real Democrat.”

So far, House Speaker Michael Madigan has decided to stay neutral because a Democrat will be elected regardless, according to his spokesman. But Jackson believes this campaign has potentially national ramifications, and he’s not giving up hope yet that Madigan and/or the local Democratic Party will come to his candidate’s aid.

That’s a lot of hope, but is there a plan? Election Day is in about five weeks.

Jackson described an expensive campaign plan of mail, black radio and cable TV, but I haven’t seen much of an uptick in Tyson’s lackluster fund-raising.

A recent event hosted by Gov. Pat Quinn helped bring in some bucks, Jackson said. “People just wanted to see a sign that there’s going to be a campaign,” Jackson said. And now that the wheels are “getting in motion,” more cash should begin flowing. Some outside groups reportedly will spend money attacking Smith, Jackson said.

Jackson said he needs to persuade 30-40 percent of voters in the heavily African-American 27th and 28th Wards to break their lifelong habit of automatically voting for Democrats. The 27th is White’s ward, so that should go somewhat smoothly. The 28th is run by Ald. Jason Ervin, who, after some early trepidation, is now on board, according to Jackson. But the former Democratic committeeman there is Ed Smith, and he’s working against Tyson, so trouble is afoot.

The idea is to “run up the score” in the district’s other wards, which are more racially diverse. The walk card Tyson’s campaign is using features a mock “Wanted” poster with a mugshot of Smith, who is “wanted” for “disgracing the Democratic Party,” “Crimes against the residents of the 10th District,” and “Federal bribery.”

If only it were that easy to win a crazy campaign like this.


- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Ouch - Friday, Sep 28, 12 @ 8:59 am:

    If Tyson loses to someone under indictment, he had better just give it up! I’m sure Tyson will be happy to put this on his resume.

  2. - wordslinger - Friday, Sep 28, 12 @ 9:00 am:

    As Smith will likely be re-elected, he won’t be the first GA member to play out the string while under indictment. Larry Bullock and John D’Arco come to mind.

    Blago wasn’t in any hurry to leave, either.

  3. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Friday, Sep 28, 12 @ 9:19 am:

    === Jackson believes this campaign has potentially national ramifications, and he’s not giving up hope yet that Madigan and/or the local Democratic Party will come to his candidate’s aid. ===

    I hope Jackson has a Plan B.

  4. - Jasper - Friday, Sep 28, 12 @ 9:21 am:

    Replacing a guy charged with a crime with a Stroger staffer?

    Sure, I heard all the nice things about Tyson. Still, he’s a guy who thought Todd Stroger was a guy who could get the job done.


    None of these people have a clue. White has a history of backing some terrible people, including Smith and Ken Dunkin. When the best person you’ve backed is Walter Burnett, you’ve got problems. Given his record, why would any voter follow is lead?

    Preckwinkle? So much for her being a reformer. Somehow I suspect that if she saw a chance to put a former 4th Ward person into the seat, she would be all over it. “Ward City God Country” seems to be her mantra.

    Madigan? This is to be expected from him. Did anybody ever believe he cared about clean government?

    Stories like this make me wish Chicago had a GOP.

  5. - Cincinnatus - Friday, Sep 28, 12 @ 9:52 am:

    In the US Congress, the Senate can refuse to seat a member. Is there such a rule in the GA?

  6. - Glass half full - Friday, Sep 28, 12 @ 9:52 am:

    Seems like Tyson and the White Sox are in the same boat right about now….that being said I’m still betting on Robin & Jackson to provide us a miracle finish

  7. - The Shadow - Friday, Sep 28, 12 @ 10:00 am:

    Sometimes people need to come out from the shadows to shed the light.

  8. - Plutocrat03 - Friday, Sep 28, 12 @ 10:15 am:

    Another approach would have been to expel him after the election. Not sure whether he can be expelled again for the same offense.

  9. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Friday, Sep 28, 12 @ 10:31 am:


    From Article IV, Section 6(d) of the Illinois Constitution:

    “Each house shall determine the rules of its proceedings, judge the elections, returns and qualifications of its members and choose its officers.”

    On paper, that gives the General Assembly broad power to refuse to seat an elected member. Essentially, they can overturn an election.

    That said, the House Rules, which I presume are based on case law, are pretty narrow.

    You can read the House Rules for yourself or someone else can post them.

    I read them long ago, when many “Constitutional scholars” were arguing that Smith could be expelled twice for the same offense. An argument I scoffed at.

    Here in a nut shell are the rules:

    The General Assembly can refuse to seat a member if they find that the elected member does not meet the qualifications for office or if they find that the election results were fraudulent.

    Obviously, that’s pretty narrow. Although I’d point out that it does give the General Assembly the authority to refuse to seat (and I think remove, I’d have to go look), a member that fails to meet the residency requirements.

    Hope that answers your question.

    As an aside, I find it unlikely that the House would alter or ignore the Rules to make a special case for refusing to seat Smith. Overturning a democratic election should be and is serious business. A political coup, targeting someone who was re-elected by his constituents even after all of the facts were out about an alleged crime, would be an awful precedent.

    It’s not far from that step to refusing to seat a member who was elected despite having been arrested for a DUI, for example.

  10. - wordslinger - Friday, Sep 28, 12 @ 10:32 am:

    From the post:

    –There is no legal way to kick Smith off the ballot, and he refused to drop out of the race. If he wins, the House can’t use the indictment to kick him out of office again because the Illinois Constitution forbids such a move.–

    The state Constitution also makes each chamber judge of elections and qualifications. He meets legal qualifications. If he’s elected, he’s in.

    As we saw with Sen. Burris, the Senate can’t just refuse to seat a qualified member. “Powell vs. McCormack” strictly limits that power.

  11. - Horton - Friday, Sep 28, 12 @ 10:49 am:

    Are these the Illinois “low information voters” I so often hear about?

    Nice to see them in action.

  12. - Tom - Friday, Sep 28, 12 @ 10:53 am:

    Derrick Smith is going to win. They (Lance) don’t have the bodies to put on the street. You can’t teach new dogs new tricks with 40 days left. Plus–to run an effective mail/radio.mail program plus street operation takes lots of money. They don’t have it.

  13. - Hammer - Friday, Sep 28, 12 @ 11:12 am:

    You reap what you sow. After decades of conditioning West (and South) siders that anything without a ‘D’ next to its name is a nonstarter, the powers that be have a tough road to hoe in 5 weeks and what looks like a deficit of sympathy from anyone else.

    While Smith should be run out on a rail, a victory might force people to pay more attention.

    White/Tyson should hope OFA isn’t doing an early vote push.

  14. - Hacks - Friday, Sep 28, 12 @ 11:16 am:

    Mike Kasper should know better than anyone that “bad precedents” abound in Illinois election law.

  15. - 47th Ward - Friday, Sep 28, 12 @ 11:29 am:

    ===The idea is to “run up the score” in the district’s other wards, which are more racially diverse.===

    Yeah, that might work in an off year election, but I think it’s going to be difficult with Obama at the top of the ticket. There is no way African-American voters are staying home this year. I haven’t looked at the precinct info, but I find it hard to believe there are enough racially diverse voters to run up any kind of score, especially with a tsunami of voters chomping at the bit to cast ballots this year.

    The committeemen need to get their door-to-door operation up and running in high gear and focus on getting Tyson votes from people they know are going to vote. With five weeks to go, if they have any kind of precinct operation, this shouldn’t be impossible, but it’s definitely going to be an uphill fight.

  16. - Capital is a must!! - Friday, Sep 28, 12 @ 11:55 am:

    Anyone who sits on the sidelines in this race no matter who the challenger is must condone bribery and essentially side with the disgraced former state rep Derrick smith. Prove me wrong……

  17. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Friday, Sep 28, 12 @ 12:56 pm:

    === After decades of conditioning West (and South) siders that anything without a ‘D’ next to its name is a nonstarter, the powers that be have a tough road to hoe in 5 weeks and what looks like a deficit of sympathy from anyone else. ===

    === Are these the Illinois “low information voters” I so often hear about? ===

    Oh, please. Alan Keyes got 1.4 million votes in 2004. Save your silly, partisan talking points for the SJR website.

    And in case you’ve forgotten (or were actually born yesterday), George Ryan was defended not just by members of his own party but also the Chicago Tribune editorial board for his ties to the deaths of six children during the 1998 election.

    Whatever you want to say about Derrick Smith — and I’ll grant you there’s plenty — you’re hard-pressed to match that for blind partisan loyalty.

  18. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Friday, Sep 28, 12 @ 12:57 pm:

    === Anyone who sits on the sidelines in this race no matter who the challenger is must condone bribery and essentially side with the disgraced former state rep Derrick smith. ===

    You’re talking about Tom Cross and Pat Brady too, right?

  19. - Shore - Friday, Sep 28, 12 @ 1:28 pm:

    I don’t know what the term is but at some point in politics people just enter a negative into their calculations about a candidate or party and decide it’s not as big an issue to them. We saw it with clinton and his woman issues and I think we’ve seen it with democrats and corruption in Illinois. Smith gets elected goes to work in springfield, andy shaw, carol marin, pat brady, tom cross, fox news and the breitbart right media will have conniptions, voters will yawn.

  20. - walkinfool - Friday, Sep 28, 12 @ 3:07 pm:

    John Adams thought that party loyalty would be the death of the new Republic. We have made it so far, but the problem seems to be getting worse lately.

    It has little to do with location or political party. Dee Beaubien might also have an uphill battle, regardless of any superior abilities and positions, because many folks around Barrington have trouble seeing past an “R” on the ballot.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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