Weather Updates

Searching for the ‘soul’ of the Democratic Party

Unity Party candidate Lance Tys(center) candidate for state representative Illinois’ 10th District campaigns Oct. 24.  |  Charles Rex

Unity Party candidate Lance Tyson (center), a candidate for state representative in Illinois’ 10th District, campaigns on Oct. 24. | Charles Rex Arbogast~AP

storyidforme: 39269460
tmspicid: 14496224
fileheaderid: 6620597

Updated: December 1, 2012 4:41PM

Two things happened the other day on the West Side that made me laugh.

The first was when Lance Tyson, candidate for 10th District state representative, told me earnestly that his race has been called “a fight for the soul of the Illinois Democratic Party.”

The soul of the Democratic Party?

Would that be, I asked incredulously, the same Democratic Party whose leaders — including Dick Durbin, Barack Obama and Mike Madigan — endorsed Rod Blagojevich for re-election in 2006 even though everybody knew the feds were already crawling all over him?

Seems to me the party’s “soul” has been in jeopardy of being lost for some time now.

But Tyson, successful attorney, former Daley operative and Todd Stroger’s former chief of staff, is working hard to draw a high-minded distinction between himself and the guy he’s running against.

That’s because the guy he’s running against, Derrick Smith, previously endorsed and installed by the bosses of the Democratic Party, managed to get himself indicted right after being appointed in March 2011. And so the bosses of the party, including the all-powerful speaker of the House, Mike Madigan, ejected him from the House this summer.

But Smith is still on the ballot.

And still listed as a Democrat.

It has forced Tyson to run under a separate Unity Party label. Something that will make it very hard for him to win, given that Democrats in this district tend to vote straight tickets, especially with Barack Obama on the top of that ticket.

Which takes me to the second thing that made me laugh while roaming the West Side on Monday.

As hard as Tyson is working to get elected, Derrick Smith is working hard to avoid certain members of the media. Despite repeated phone calls, I couldn’t get him to respond to an interview request.

Fortunately, there are plenty of eyes on the West Side, and a text popped up on my phone reading, “Derrick is at Wallace’s Catfish Corner! California and Madison. White Lexus Truck!”

Sure enough, there was the indicted former state rep in the parking lot of the restaurant owned by former Ald. Wallace Davis, who was federally indicted and convicted years ago. The restaurant is Smith’s informal headquarters.

When I approached Smith’s car with NBC5 cameraman Paul Nagaro, Smith reluctantly got out of the SUV to talk to me. But two male companions, serving as bodyguards, did their level best to block us.

“Mr. Smith,” I asked, “do you really need these guys to protect you from me?”

Even Smith quickly saw this was not putting the best face on his campaign and waved them off.

“We’re gonna win,” Smith predicted.

Whatever happens, people, the Democratic Party is not going to be embarrassed. And does not see this race as soul-wrenching in any way. What it understands, under the leadership of Madigan, is that whoever wins — Smith or Tyson — will be expected to vote the party line.

And will.

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.