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Quinn, White say arrested lawmaker should step down

State representative Derrick Smith leaves Federal Building after his arraignment Tuesday March 13 2012. Federal agents arrested Smith today federal

State representative Derrick Smith leaves the Federal Building after his arraignment Tuesday March 13, 2012. Federal agents arrested Smith today on a federal bribery charge for allegedly accepting a $7,000 cash bribe to write an official letter of support for a daycare center that he believed was seeking a state grant, federal authorities announced. The 48-year-old Smith, who represents the 10th District on the West Side, was charged with one count of accepting a bribe. | TOM CRUZE~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 25, 2013 10:16PM

Just days after either remaining neutral or even urging voters to support him, Democratic leaders on Wednesday called on state Rep. Derrick Smith to resign because of the federal bribery charges against him.

What changed?

Smith won his Democratic primary battle Tuesday — meaning if he were to step down, Democratic ward committeemen would be able to appoint another nominee — although some insisted that did not drive the sudden hurry to dump Smith.

The leaders who have joined the chorus for Smith to step down include Gov. Pat Quinn and Smith’s top political backer, Secretary of State Jesse White.

“The governor thinks he should step down. He thinks [Smith] is not going to be able to be an effective representative for his constituents given the circumstances. The governor would urge the representative to step down as soon as possible,” Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said Wednesday.

Quinn on Saturday tiptoed around Smith’s bribery charge, calling his race a “tough call for voters,” but one “they’ll be able to sort out.” Other top Dems, including U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) even campaigned for Smith after he was arrested.

When Smith was charged, White did not address whether his protege should step down, only issuing a brief statement saying “I am very disappointed with the conduct alleged in the charges. I am confident this case will be handled fairly and justly by the judicial system.”

White’s call Wednesday for Smith to resign had nothing to do with the primary results, a White spokesman said.

“After reviewing the situation, having time to think about it and overcoming some of the shock of the original charges, he feels that the people would be better represented if someone else was in that spot,” White spokesman Dave Druker said.

If Smith does relinquish his seat in the state legislature or as the Democratic nominee, White and other Democratic committeemen whose wards are part of his district would chose his replacement.

There would have to be two separate votes – one to fill the “vacancy in office,” one to fill the “vacancy in nomination.” In both cases, White, 27th Ward committeeman; and former Ald. Ed Smith, 28th Ward committeeman, each hold about a quarter of the weighted vote.

A handful of other aldermen have lesser shares of the weighted vote.

Druker said no arrangements have been made yet for any meeting because there is no vacancy. He said White had no candidates in mind to replace Smith.

House Republicans also called Wednesday on House Speaker Michael Madigan to form a special investigatory panel to look into Smith’s actions. Late Wednesday afternoon, Madigan announced he was an appointing three representatives to a such a committee which will meet Tuesday.

Earlier, Madigan aide Steve Brown said the speaker had not asked Smith to resign, saying it “probably is not even proper” to do so given the uncertain status of Smith or the House’s next step. He also said Smith had not communicated to the speaker about resigning or staying put.

Smith could not be reached for comment.

Despite Smith’s serious legal trouble, the West Side Democrat scored nearly 80 percent of the primary vote Tuesday against his Republican-turned-Democrat rival, Tom Swiss, driving one of the primary’s most peculiar story lines.

In recent memory, no sitting House or Senate member in Illinois has won election while facing a criminal charge.

Smith, a former employee of White’s office, was appointed last year with White’s backing to fill the unexpired House term of former state Rep. Annazette Collins (D-Chicago), who was appointed to fill a vacant Senate seat. In Tuesday’s election, Collins lost her bid to hold on to that seat to rival Patricia Van Pelt Watkins, a former Chicago mayoral candidate.

On Wednesday, White said in a statement that Smith should step down because the “allegations in the charge against him convey unacceptable conduct, making it extremely difficult to represent the citizens of the district. The public would be much better served if Derrick were to step down.”

The House Republicans said Madigan should create a special investigative committee that was similar to the one that was established prior to ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s impeachment. Those lawmakers seeking the investigation include state Rep. Ed Sullivan (R-Mundelein), Rep. Bill Mitchell (R-Forsyth), Rep. Tim Schmitz (R-Batavia), Rep. Dave Winters (R-Shirland) and Rep. Jim Sacia (R-Pecatonica).

“The election is over, and it’s time to govern,” Sullivan told the Chicago Sun-Times. “I believe it’s incumbent on the House of Representatives to move forward to clean up the problems this representative has caused in breaking the public trust.”

Smith was arrested on March 13 after an undercover FBI sting allegedly caught him accepting a $7,000 cash bribe in exchange for writing a letter of support to a daycare-center operator seeking a $50,000 state grant.

“It’s ironic that Rep. Smith was charged with bribery the same week as our governor is going to jail,” Sullivan said.

“But the precedent for this was set when former Gov. Blagojevich was charged. We’re following the game plan that took place a couple of years ago,” he said, referring to the impeachment effort that originated in the House after Blagojevich’s December 2008 arrest.

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