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One week after bribery charge, State Rep. Derrick Smith wins big

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: April 22, 2012 10:18AM

State Rep. Derrick Smith scored a big win Tuesday against his Republican-turned-Democratic challenger in a quirky primary contest a week after his arrest on a federal bribery charge.

Powerful Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan also claimed victory over a spirited but mostly overwhelmed challenger, highlighting a slate of legislative races with plenty of intrigue but few upsets.

Smith (D–Chicago), who was appointed to the House in 2011, was busted by the feds after allegedly accepting $7,000 to write a recommendation letter for a daycare center he thought was seeking a state grant.

With about 92 percent of the precincts reporting, Smith had taken in 77 percent of the vote against 23 percent for challenger Tom Swiss, who raised eyebrows by running billboard ads depicting black individuals in the mostly African-American district when he himself is white.

“I was annihilated,” Swiss said. ““The ideologues came out, and those are the people that just would rather vote for a crook than someone who had worked for Republicans.”

Swiss also insinuated that getting arrested actually helped Smith, saying the race was based on name recognition and the stories generated by his arrest were the equivalent of “hundreds and thousands of dollars” of campaign advertising.

Despite decades of control in Springfield, Madigan (D–Chicago) honed in on his primary challenge this year, sending out mailers in the 22nd District trumpeting his strong leadership and decrying the now-imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

With nearly 99 percent of the precincts reporting, Madigan had 76 percent of the vote compared to 17 percent for Michele Piszczor and even less for two candidates who barely campaigned.

Former Chicago mayoral candidate Patricia Van Pelt Watkins appeared to have ousted incumbent state Sen. Annazette Collins (D–Chicago) in their battle for the 5th District Senate nomination with 94 percent of the precincts reporting. Van Pelt Watkins had 54 percent of the vote while Collins had 46 percent.

The Sun-Times earlier this month reported Collins awarded college tuition waivers to students who resided outside her district. She also has drawn criticism from Secretary of State Jesse White, who supports Van Pelt Watkins.

Christian Mitchell and Kenny Johnson were still slugging it out in the Democratic primary for the 26th House seat with 91 percent of the precincts reporting, Mitchell was leading with 52 percent of the vote to Johnson’s 48 percent.

Mitchell has backing from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, while Johnson has support from state Sen. Kwame Raoul (D–Chicago) and 42nd Ward Ald. Brendan Reilly.

Former NFL linebacker Napoleon Harris was leading the field of 15th District Senate candidates, securing 44 percent of the Democratic primary vote with 93 percent of precincts reporting while candidates Donna Miller and Pat Mahon garnered 35 percent and 21 percent, respectively.

Incumbent state Rep. Toni Berrios (D–Chicago) was having problems staying ahead of newcomer Will Guzzardi. With 95 percent of precincts reporting, Berrios had 51 percent of the vote to Guzzardi’s 49 percent.

In DuPage County, the Republican primary race for the 23rd District Senate seat was tight between incumbent Sen. Carole Pankau and state Rep. Randy Ramey, although there were still plenty of votes to be counted. With 42 percent of precincts in, Pankau was up 57 percent to 43 percent over Ramey.

Dairy mogul and perennial candidate Jim Oberweis was also leading the field of GOP candidates in the 25th Senate District primary with 51 percent of the vote, with 59 percent of precincts reporting.

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