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Seeing the bigger picture in 10th District race

Billboard for state Representative candidate Tom Swiss  Republican running as DemocrAfrican-American district. File photo. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

Billboard for state Representative candidate Tom Swiss , a Republican running as a Democrat in a African-American district. File photo. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 21, 2012 8:10AM

I have a lot of respect for Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), because the senior statesman has always been a strong advocate for the African-American community.

So I was taken aback to see him among the West Side elected officials that publicly supported state Rep. Derrick Smith (D-Chicago) days after Smith was charged with taking a $7,000 bribe from an undercover informant.

Smith, of course, is innocent until proven guilty. But this is not the kind of news his supporters wanted to hear a week before a primary. Worse yet, the appointed official is facing off against Tom Swiss, a former director of the Cook County Republican Party who morphed into a Democrat.

We are all free to change our political affiliation. The concern here is that Swiss is a Republican masquerading as a Democrat.

Frankly, if Swiss thinks that voters in the 10th District, which is a majority African-American district, are so uniformed that they could be fooled by a billboard he put up featuring a black construction worker, he doesn’t think highly of those voters.

I’m not suggesting that a white man shouldn’t represent a majority African-American district. But trying to trick voters into thinking you are something that you are not is deceitful, and deceit is a terrible character trait.

“He is actually a right wing conservative,” said Danny Davis (D-Chicago), “but he is running for office as a Democrat. Should he win, people in that legislative district will not be represented by a Democrat, even though the vast majority of them are Democrats.”

Despite the bribery charges, on Monday Smith was ahead in the polls by a 2-to-1 margin, according to a Fox Chicago News poll.

Swiss has called on Smith to resign.

“It’s inexcusable that they’re reinforcing the culture of corruption by asking voters to support Derrick Smith,” Swiss said in response to the rally for his opponent.

Of course, the support isn’t really for Derrick Smith.

It’s about Democrats trying to hold onto a seat in the General Assembly even if they have to leave it in Smith’s tainted hands and wrench it away later.

“Derrick has wounded himself as a candidate, but I would be willing to bet a dollar to doughnuts that he will not be on the ballot in November,” Davis told me.

“Because in all likelihood, he would resign and then the committeemen of that district would replace him with another candidate who would be a Democrat,” Davis said.

That is really why Davis has staked his reputation.

Smith, who was appointed to the seat after Annazette Collins was moved on to the state Senate, has the support of Secretary of State Jesse White and Ald. Walter Burnett (27th). There’s little chance that Smith would be able to hang onto the seat if either of these elected officials told him to give it up.

Still, standing by a candidate after he or she has been accused of accepting a bribe is always ugly.

“It’s a hard choice because you know what it is going to look like,” Davis said. “But Smith would have to resign because he wouldn’t have any support, and there’s no chance of him serving if he is convicted.”

This race will come down to dueling misperceptions.

Swiss is banking on the intentional misperception that is communicated by billboards that celebrate the African-American worker.

And West Side Democrats are banking on black voters seeing the bigger picture.

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