Indicted pol sponsors legal aid fair
BY CAROL MARIN email@example.com September 14, 2012 7:12PM
Illinois Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Chicago, is seen on the House floor during session Tuesday, April 17, 2012 at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Ill. Smith has been largely absent from the capital since his March 13 arrest on a federal bribery charge. He was indicted on April 10, 2012 for allegedly accepting $7,000 in exchange for his support of a grant application. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
Updated: October 17, 2012 6:31AM
Derrick Smith learned a lot about politics and the law this year.
The former 10th District state representative has been indicted by the feds, kicked out of the Legislature and abandoned by some — but certainly not all — members of the Illinois Democratic Party.
And here’s the kicker that’s so full of irony. To borrow a phrase from my Sun-Times colleague Natasha Korecki’s new book, Only In Chicago, this weekend Smith is co-sponsoring a free legal clinic for residents on the West Side.
The man who could soon be going to prison after getting caught on an FBI surveillance tape allegedly taking $7,000 in bribes is offering help to those who might need a lawyer.
Hard to imagine that anyone can be more in need of an attorney than he. But, oh well.
I called Smith’s cellphone Thursday to see if he finds this as ironic as I do.
“I’m just helping people who need help,” Smith told me.
Do you tell them about your own legal situation?
“I just help organize them. I don’t offer legal advice,” he said.
But what about the Democratic Party of Illinois and its chairman, House Speaker Michael Madigan, which twice endorsed former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who now sits in a federal prison?
Believe it or not, Madigan, the most powerful politician in all of Illinois, is neutral when it comes to who is running to retake the seat from which Madigan’s House expelled Smith.
Who could make this stuff up?
Even though Democratic committeemen were forced to endorse an alternative, independent candidate to Smith, they have done so — some of them — half-heartedly.
That candidate is attorney Lance Tyson, a former legislative aide to Mayor Richard M. Daley and a former chief of staff to Cook County Board President Todd Stroger.
You might argue that working for Stroger is not exactly a star on your resume. Then again, Tyson quit that job before voters quit on Stroger.
And, let’s remember, Tyson has been a loyal Democrat who, as a bond attorney, donated more than $70,000 over the years to party candidates. Tyson, it’s worth mentioning, also has never been indicted for anything.
For all of those reasons, you might assume that some party regulars would be thrilled to endorse Tyson, running on the Unity Party ticket.
Secretary of State Jesse White, who launched Smith’s political career and now renounces him, supports Tyson.
But others? Not so much.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is “neutral” in this race, according to her political director.
As is Madigan, whose own political committee was providing financial resources to Smith at the same time lawmakers were ousting him.
There are a lot of political subplots to this story, including beleaguered West Side politicians struggling to keep their power base who think Smith — even under a federal cloud — helps them more than Tyson.
And so, if you are one of those people clinging to the hope that someday, somehow, Chicago will be ready for reform?