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Ald. Jason Ervin’s candidate for state rep. draws scrutiny

Ald. JasErvin

Ald. Jason Ervin

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Updated: July 2, 2012 10:07AM

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) made no secret of which candidate he was hoping would get the support of Democratic ward committeemen to run a third-party campaign against their own nominee, indicted Rep. Derrick Smith.

In recent weeks, Ervin had been making introductions for Melissa Conyears, a manager for Allstate Insurance who also is the recording secretary for Ervin’s 28th Ward Democratic Organization.

On Tuesday, Conyears was among nine candidates who presented their credentials in public to the committeemen after completing a detailed questionnaire asking about everything from drug use to financial problems — the entire process intended to clear the air after the Smith debacle.

That’s what made it all the more damaging, some of those Democrats say, when it wasn’t until Ervin was questioned by them in private afterward that he confirmed Conyears is his girlfriend.

Ervin’s explanation for leaving out that little detail: He thought everyone knew.

Keeping a promise to be open and transparent in selecting an opponent for Smith isn’t proving to be quite as simple as it sounds, Democrats are finding.

Before this is over, some of them may long for the days when such candidate selection meetings were a done deal with the decisions made in advance.

Committeemen had intended to make a final selection Tuesday but ended up only narrowing the field to three finalists — including Conyears — and agreed to finish Wednesday after digging deeper into each of their backgrounds.

Indications are that could get messy.

The other two finalists are Chicago Police Sgt. Eddie Winters, who has been a candidate for the seat twice previously, and Lance Tyson, a lawyer who previously served as chief of staff to Cook County Board President Todd Stroger and as a Springfield lobbyist for the city of Chicago.

Ervin questioned Winters on Tuesday about whether he had ever been sued for child support payments or had been the subject of a restraining order. Winters denied both, and Ervin drew a rebuke from some of his colleagues, who said they should wait to see the records. Aides to Ervin said he would follow up on the matter Wednesday.

In addition, Ervin’s camp sought to draw attention to Tyson’s disclosure that he had been arrested for DUI in 1997. Tyson said the case was dismissed.

If they’re not careful, the Democrats may kill off their candidate before they can launch him — or her.

Don’t forget this all started with the dramatic pre-election arrest of Smith in March on charges he took a $7,000 bribe. Smith, a first-termer who himself had been appointed, went on to win the nomination and has refused to step down or give up his spot on the ballot, prompting Democrats to form the 10th District Unity Party to take him out in the fall.

That’s why they’re a little more sensitive than usual to the public sensitivities about running one of their girlfriends for office. Normally, it would be no big deal.

Even now, several committemen told me it’s not Ervin’s relationship with Conyears that is at issue but that they weren’t told.

“He was not forthcoming,” complained Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, the leader of the group who will pick. “The situation became tainted.”

Ervin is still having trouble being forthcoming. When I asked him about Conyears, he told me he wasn’t denying a relationship. But he wouldn’t confirm it either.

“I consider her a friend,” he said. “We know each other.”

Conyears changed her voting address last month to the same West Washington street two-flat that Ervin lists as his home. Ervin owns the property, records show.

Ervin said Conyears was selected to run by his 28th Ward political organization, not by him personally, and that she should be judged on her qualifications.

Conyears took a similar approach.

“Ald. Ervin and I are friends,” she said. “My background, my name and my reputation speaks for itself. I’ve worked hard all my life to get to where I am.”

Everyone will get another chance to explain themselves Wednesday.

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