Dems: Vote for accused bribe-taker

SHARE Dems: Vote for accused bribe-taker

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 Media

In the parks, churches, bowling alleys and VFW halls of Illinois, candidates for president, state supreme court, state representative and every office in-between made their last-minute pitches before Tuesday’s primary elections.

Perhaps the most audacious plea came from West Side Democratic elected officials who urged voters to support an Illinois House member charged with bribery. It looks bad, they acknowledged, but it will prevent the seat from falling into the hands of Republicans.

The rally in support of appointed state Rep. Derrick Smith (D-Chicago) featured U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), three aldermen and a county commissioner and even adopted a catchy moniker: “No defeat or retreat – keep the Dem seat.”

“There’s nothing wrong with being a Republican, except that if people are going to vote for a Republican, they ought to know they’re voting for a Republican,” Davis said, referring to Smith’s Republican-turned-Democrat rival, Tom Swiss.

Smith was arrested last week by federal prosecutors after being secretly recorded while allegedly accepting a $7,000 bribe in exchange for writing a letter of support for a daycare center seeking a $50,000 state grant.

Gov. Pat Quinn on Saturday tiptoed around Smith’s bribery charge, calling his race against Swiss a “tough call for voters,” but one “they’ll be able to sort out.”

Swiss, the former executive director of the Cook County Republican Party – who is white but uses images of African-Americans on billboards and mailers in this predominantly black district – teed off on his critics: “I think it’s inexcusable that they’re reinforcing the culture of corruption by asking voters to support Derrick Smith, a man that was arrested and caught red-handed for taking a bribe,” Swiss told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Smith has not returned phone calls from the Sun-Times since his arrest.

Ald. Scott Waugespack (32nd), who is unopposed for Democratic Ward Committeeman, said he will suggest to Jesse White – who holds the lion’s share of the weighted vote in the district – that a stricter vetting process be used to pick a replacement for Smith.

“I think we have to appoint someone with more independence,” Waugespack said. “I want to talk to Jesse White and say I think we can’t keep picking people like Anazette Collins and Derrick Smith, who are going to have ethics problems. I think we need to do a better vetting process.”

Supremely Competitive Race

For the first time in 12 years, a candidate for state supreme court has gone negative on a rival.

Justice Mary Jane Theis, who really does have highest ratings from Cook County’s bar associations, is running a television commercial accurately stating that some of the bar groups find Justice Aurelia Pucinski unqualified and that Pucinski ran for Cook County Board president as a Republican.

A recent poll showed even after half a million dollars’ worth of television commercials, Theis and Pucinski – who has raised and spent less than $100,000 – were still in a statistical tie, thanks to the name recognition Pucinski’s father started building a half-century ago as a congressionman.

Personal PAC, an abortion-rights group, is also spending $200,000 sending Pucinski-slamming; Theis-boosting mailings to women around Cook County.

Theis, Pucinski, the former Clerk of the Cook County Circuit Court, Justice Joy Cunningham, whose ratings are almost as good as Theis’, all visited churches and other locales looking for votes Sunday. Attorney Thomas Flannigan also is in the race.

Tammy v Raja in the northwest burbs

Tammy Duckworth and Raja Krishnamoorthi were both attending the York Township St. Patrick’s Day Dinner at the Drury Lane on Sunday night as they seek the Democratic nod to face Rep. Joe Walsh in November.

“One person told me, ‘We need to get Joe Walsh out of there,” said Duckworth, a former assistant director of Veterans Affairs in the Obama Administration. But mostly the voters say they need help with jobs, she said.

Krishnamoorthi, former deputy treasurer of Illinois, hit a Hindu temple, an Indian church, a Muslim poetry reading, a Greek banquet and a bowling tournament Sunday. He said he is hoping the district’s committeemen help turn out the vote for him Tuesday.

Ferocious North Shore Fight

The North Shore 10th congressional district Democratic primary – largely narrowed to a ferocious battle between Brad Schneider and Ilya Sheyman – is over whether an establishment figure is better than a prolific organizer to take on freshman Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.) in November.

“I think it will be very close,” Schneider strategist Eric Adelstein said Sunday.

National Democrats are closely watching who wins Tuesday since Illinois Democrats remapped the 10th to make it one of the best potential Democratic pick-up districts in the country.

“If we can’t win it here, we can’t win it anywhere,” said John Hmurovic at a candidate forum last month in Deerfield sponsored by the Tenth Dems organization featuring four rivals: Schneider, from Deerfield; Sheyman, from Waukegan; John Tree, from Long Grove and Vivek Bavda from Mundelein.

In the final chapter of the contest, the fight is taking place in the mail boxes of potential primary voters with direct mail pieces for both sides making stretch, a handout from Schneider with President Barack Obama’s picture in it has inflamed the Sheyman team because it falsely implies an endorsement. Obama has not endorsed Schneider.

Schneider campaign spokesman Jarrod Backus said the photo was used to affirm the business executive’s support for the president.

Direct mail pieces by Sheyman allies may have gone too far in suggesting that Schneider’s donations to a handful of anti-abortion Republicans have made him less than the abortion rights advocate he really is.

Tree ­– a businessman and colonel in the Air Force reserves – had to skip a rally in Vernon Hills Sunday because of the death of his mother-in-law. Former Rep. Joe Sestak, a vice-admiral, endorsed tree saying Congress needs more veterans.

Sheyman, a professional political organizer, has been bolstered by help from progressive Democrat organizations, including MoveOn, Democracy for America and the Progressive and if he wins, they will get bragging rights. But the support from these groups could have a November backlash in the fight against Dold.

The district includes Cook and Lake County suburbs: it hugs Lake Michigan, taking in Glencoe, Highland Park, Waukegan, Zion and Winthrop Harbor and stretching west to include Northbrook, Buffalo Grove, Libertyville and Round Lake Beach.

Dold on Sunday was at a town hall rally for Mitt Romney in Vernon Hills, in the 10th district. With a big fight ahead, Dold said on Wednesday, he “buckles his chin strap and gets ready to go.”

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