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.