CHICAGO — Disgraced former state Rep. Derrick Smith's re-election to the General Assembly left politicians scrambling to deal with a person who'd already been expelled from the legislature on charges of bribery.
"This is such an embarrassment," said state Rep. Jim Sacia (R-Freeport), one of the leaders of the movement to sanction Smith earlier this year.
"We have a man that we've expelled for all the right reasons, and he's re-elected so we allow him back in, and we can't remove him for all the same reasons. That makes absolutely zero sense to me."
According to a federal indictment, Smith was charged a week before the March primary with accepting a $7,000 bribe. He won the primary, but was expelled by a 100-6 vote over the summer.
He remained on the ballot for 10th District state representative, however, and was re-elected by a convincing margin over Lance Tyson, an independent backed by Democratic Party leaders including Secretary of State Jesse White, the 27th Ward committeeman.
Constitutional rules related to double jeopardy make it impossible for him to be expelled anew on the same charges, although he could be removed once convicted. His federal trial would come next year at the earliest.
White made no apologies for backing Tyson, saying, "I wanted to give the people a choice between a man who is a lawyer and one who needs a lawyer." White added that, in spite of Smith's legal difficulties, his name recognition and party affiliation carried the day.
"It's always difficult when you're running against your own party," White said.
"People are not accustomed to vote against Democrats," said Ald. Walter Burnett (27th). "It's an uphill battle."
White said he was "baffled" by Smith's victory and that the district, which stretches from Lincoln Park to Garfield Park, would suffer as a result.
"Down the line, the people of the district will get a chance to see what they voted for," he said. "Once you have been arrested or indicted, your legs are cut out from under you when it comes to statewide resources."
House Speaker Michael Madigan likewise backed Tyson, but said there are no plans to take new action against Smith.
"The speaker followed the rules earlier this year, and the legislature did what they did," said Madigan spokesman Steve Brown.
Sacia declined to blame Democrats. "I think it reflects unfavorably on all of us," he said. "I know this is an embarrassment to my Democratic colleagues as much as it is to me."
Yet, he wasn't so sure about accepting the situation. "At this point in time, I'm not looking at anything specifically," he said. "In retrospect, I have no regrets that we did what we did. The only regret I have is that we don't have a viable option. Even if it's for picking his nose in public, something should be done to keep this man out."
Both White and Burnett said they were "torn" by the campaign against Smith. Burnett and Smith were both White's political proteges, and Burnett referred to Smith as a "brother" who'd gone astray.
"To be honest, everything that Derrick did he learned from us," Burnett said, quickly adding, "except the legal situation."