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West Side story: Indicted, expelled Smith could win

Updated: October 20, 2012 6:15AM

There are wake-up calls. And then there are wake-up calls.

On Sunday, I wrote about Derrick Smith, the indicted, expelled state representative from Chicago’s West Side who remains on the November ballot, running as a Democrat, to reclaim the job from which he was ejected.

“I’m doin’ fine,” he told me last week.

And indeed, he is.

As Rich Miller’s Capitol Fax blog reported Monday, a We Ask America poll gives Smith a 48 percent to 9 percent edge over Lance Tyson, who is running against him on the third-party Unity ticket.

“The poll is helping to wake everybody up,” Tyson said by phone Tuesday.

The good news for Tyson is that 43 percent of respondents were still undecided. And that Gov. Pat Quinn and Secretary of State Jesse White will hold a fund-raiser for him Thursday.

The bad news is that in addition to the professed neutrality of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, there are very real forces on Chicago’s West Side working hard to put Derrick Smith right back in the seat from which he was ousted so he can go on trial as a sitting state representative.

One of them is former 28th Ward alderman and committeeman Ed Smith, who told me by phone, “I’m a Democrat, I support Democrats. The other person is not a Democrat. I do my politics the right way . . . When you do your story, I want people to know that I’m in this campaign because Derrick Smith has not been convicted. . . . He has a right to run, he is on the ballot, is the only Democrat that is on the ballot.”

Actually, Tyson also is a Democrat. But he can’t run as one because he entered the race late. Moreover, Tyson carries with him the baggage of having worked for a pariah of a Democrat, former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, whom Preckwinkle soundly defeated. Her aversion to Stroger coupled with her loyalty to Ed Smith (who stuck his neck out to support her) might explain Preckwinkle’s unwillingness to, even quietly, take sides in this race.

In this West Side battle, there are all sorts of these complicating factors and competing alliances.

But make no mistake, Ed Smith and Jesse White are political war horses. Both are 78, veterans of hard-fought politics, and each has a stake in who wins.

For White, it’s a matter of reputation. Derrick Smith was his protege who now, thanks to allegedly grabbing a $7,000 bribe with both hands, has embarrassed the popular secretary of state.

“He’s tainted goods,” White told me. “So I’m walking away from him.”

Not Ed Smith, who says if Derrick Smith (no relation) has done wrong, “The courts will take care of it.”

So what will voters do?

Remember, this is a presidential election year. Democratic voters in the 10th District overwhelmingly went for Obama in 2008 and are in the habit of voting straight tickets.

Don’t think for a second Derrick Smith can’t win this.

He can. And he might.

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