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Why Preckwinkle washes her hands of it all

Updated: October 27, 2012 6:20AM

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is blunt.

“This state rep race has been a nightmare from the beginning,” she said by phone early Tuesday morning.

She was talking about the latest plague on our political house, the race in which state Rep. Derrick Smith, a West Side Democrat, was charged with bribery by the feds in March but won his primary a week later anyway because Democratic leaders in Cook County endorsed him. They didn’t want to see his opponent, Tom Swiss, a white Republican masquerading as a black Democrat, win instead.

But it gets worse.

A few months later, Rep. Smith earned the distinction of being the first Illinois lawmaker in a century to be expelled from the House and thrown out of office. But does that stop him from being on the November ballot to reclaim the job from which he was evicted?

Absolutely not.

If he wins — and truly, he might — he can’t be expelled a second time unless the feds ultimately convict him of grabbing $7,000 in bribes.

Do voters have an alternative?

Democratic committeemen from the 10th District have endorsed municipal bond attorney Lance Tyson, also a Democrat, who is running as a third-party candidate.

You might assume that because Preckwinkle has earned a reputation for reforming government that she would be in Tyson’s corner. Especially since she never endorsed Smith and regards him as “incompetent at best, a crook at worst.”

But no. She is not.

“I would tell you, I’ve spent the last two years of my life trying to clean up after Todd Stroger,” said the president, referring to her ill-fated, much criticized predecessor.

Tyson was Stroger’s first chief of staff. A former lobbyist for the Daley administration, Tyson took on the job in a muscular way. Or as former county Commissioner Mike Quigley expressed it to the Tribune, in the manner of “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.”

But after 18 months of playing defense, Tyson must have known Stroger’s brand of governance was indefensible. He left for private practice. But he kept giving and raising cash for many Democratic politicians, including Preckwinkle, as recently as April of this year.

But when Tyson asked for Preckwinkle’s endorsement this summer, she declined.

“There is no way for Lance to disassociate himself from the past I inherited,” she told me. “We’re in terrible budget shape, they didn’t do any long-range planning, and given how little attention Todd gave, I would guess Lance was running it.”

Tyson disputes that. And he calls Preckwinkle’s rejection “stunning,” arguing that she should want “to support an attorney” in a race against someone “who needs an attorney.”

Then again, Preckwinkle is living proof that campaign contributions don’t buy her love. Or endorsement.

But if she lived in the 10th district? How would she vote?

“I’d vote for Lance,” she said with what sounded like resignation. “But I’m going to stay out of this race.”

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