SPRINGFIELD – Defying calls for his resignation, indicted state Rep. Derrick Smith finally showed up for work Tuesday in the Illinois House, where he strode onto the House floor, was greeted by several well-wishers and would say only “no comment” when asked about his legal troubles.
His presence surprised House Speaker Michael Madigan’s staffers, who had predicted just an hour before the session opened Tuesday that the West Side Democrat would stay away from Springfield this week.
Smith – who was indicted last week by a federal grand jury on a bribery charge – spent part of Tuesday’s session in his seat, where a few colleagues approached with hands extended. Later, a smiling Smith worked the Democratic side of the aisle.
“I greeted him because he’s here to represent the people who elected him,” said Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago). “I just told him God bless him. He’s got some challenging days ahead of him.”
When the session ended, Smith went out a back way rather than through the front entrance of the chamber, where a crush of news cameras were waiting.
Smith tried unsuccessfully to evade two reporters, walking down three flights of stairs, entering an unused committee room and, on emerging, appearing to consider going outside through doors at the Capitol that would have triggered an alarm until being alerted to that by a reporter.
Asked if he was pleased by the reception he got on his return to Springfield, Smith issued the first in a string of “No comments.”
The answer was the same when asked if he believes he’s innocent; whether he intends to attend every day of the legislative session; what he thinks about House members contemplating taking steps to remove him from office; and whether he plans to testify before the committee contemplating that action if asked.
Smith had been a no-show at the Capitol since his March 13 arrest on a federal bribery charge stemming from an undercover FBI sting operation.
He was formally indicted on that charge last week after authorities said he accepted $7,000 in cash in exchange for writing a letter on behalf of a daycare center in his district that he believed was seeking a $50,000 state grant.
A special House panel weighing whether there’s cause to sanction Smith is awaiting a response from U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s office on whether its work would interfere with the criminal probe into Smith and whether the prosecutor’s office will provide the panel evidence it’s developed.
Smith’s presence Tuesday drew criticism from state Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo), who has called for Madigan to suspend Smith from all committee posts. Franks said Smith’s attendance brought a “taint” to the entire House.
“I want to end the thought process in this state where this is business as usual and it’s accepted, and it’s just another guy who got indicted,” Franks said. “This would not be accepted anywhere else, except maybe Louisiana. We need to reclaim the moral high ground.”