Expelled state Rep. Derrick Smith, under indictment for bribery in an FBI sting, returned to office, defeating independent challenger Lance Tyson by a 2-to-1 ratio Tuesday.
Smith was caught in a federal sting and charged with corruption and bribery in March, a week before the primary. He won the Democratic race anyway with more than 75 percent of the vote, but was expelled from the General Assembly by a 100-6 vote in August. A state website put his position in straightforward terms by showing he won the primary as an incumbent but was running for an open seat against Tyson, of the independent Unity Party.
In spite of the charges against him, Smith won the 10th District by an overwhelming margin. With 98 percent of precincts counted, he led 62.75 percent to 37.25 percent for Tyson, who conceded. Smith can't be expelled again from the legislature on the same charges unless he is actually convicted.
Smith conducted a campaign with little media involvement and did not return calls for comment.
Tyson, a Chicago attorney, was heavily backed by embarrassed party regulars, including Secretary of State Jesse White. White had employed Smith in the Secretary of State's office and backed his appointment to the state House in March 2011, as the 27th Ward committeeman. But, after the federal indictment, White recruited Tyson to run and contributed $20,000 to his campaign from the 27th Ward Regular Democratic Organization. Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) also backed Tyson with $1,000 from his political fund, and Tyson claimed the backing of all city aldermen with areas in the 10th District, including Jason Ervin (28th), Michele Smith (43rd) and Scott Waguespack (32nd).
"I still can't understand how he won," White said at an election night event for Tyson. "I'm still baffled by it all."
White didn't apologize for giving the district the choice of another candidate, because Smith figured to be a pariah in the General Assembly.
"I'm concerned about the people of the district," he added. "They won't get their fair share of resources."
"The district suffers," added Ervin. "The only person who won today is Derrick Smith."
Yet, even as Tyson said he would switch to a Democrat if he won, Democratic support for an independent was not unanimous. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle called the race a "nightmare," citing Tyson's background as chief of staff for Todd Stroger, Preckwinkle's predecessor in office. Assessor Joseph Berrios, chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party, likewise "took no position," according to spokesman Manuel Galvan, and West Side Congressman Danny Davis also took the race off.
There was a backlash as well on other fronts, best expressed by Wallace Davis, the former Chicago alderman convicted of taking bribes in the 1980s. Davis now runs Wallace's Catfish Corner at Madison and California in East Garfield Park. He said Smith visited his restaurant on election night.
"The man hasn't been convicted of a damn thing," said Davis, who blamed House Speaker Michael Madigan for ramrodding the expulsion.
"He didn't expel John D'Arco or any white legislators," Davis said, citing the former Chicago state senator. "He gave them their day in court."
He said the district rebuffed the party leadership.
"This is going to be the biggest embarrassment for the Democratic Party ever," Davis said.
In spite of Smith's legal woes, it was never a clear-cut election. In Lincoln Park, at the St. Terese of Avila polling place at Armitage and Kenmore, Joy Arager said she voted for Tyson because of the charges against Smith, whether he was already convicted on not.
"As I hear more and more about it, I'm just not comfortable with the situation," Arager said.
Lynne and Richard Rice were dutiful voters, passing a newspaper clipping on judges back and forth to complete their ballots. They voted for Tyson, and when asked why, Richard responded with a single word: "Indictment."
Dan O'Donnell said he voted for Smith because he recognized the name and had good associations from what he'd read about him — in the local publication Inside Lincoln Park. When told about Smith's federal charges, he said, "I didn't know. But I'd have to read the story. ... So many things are political these days."
Things were no more clear cut across the 10th District in East Garfield Park at the Dodge Academy Gym polling place on West Washington. Rosalind Jackson spoke of Tyson in glowing terms, saying, "He's more of a high-class representative for the district," and talking of what he could do for the West Side. She said the charges against Smith were almost an afterthought.
Laura Hinkes Molinaro said she voted for Tyson for change, adding, "Any potential for corruption feeds into my hope for change."
Latasha Jetters, however, voted for Smith, saying she was turned off by Tyson's attacks on the former representative. "He really put Derrick Smith out there real bad," Jetters said. "He has not been found guilty of anything."
Laura Nesbit echoed that, saying Smith had served the district well and deserved to be returned to the job "until he's proven guilty."
And Jamal Shells voted for Tyson because, he said, "My momma asked me to. She didn't go into specifics, she just told me to vote for him. I trust her word. You know moms."