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Rep. Smith isn't getting message: It's time to go

Illinois Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Chicago, is seen on the House floor during session Tuesday, April 17, 2012 at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Ill. Smith has been largely absent from the capital since his March 13 arrest on a federal bribery charge. He was indicted on April 10, 2012 for allegedly accepting $7,000 in exchange for his support of a grant application. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Somebody needs to start talking sense to state Rep. Derrick Smith, who in his first public comments Monday since his arrest on federal bribery charges gave indications he may have taken leave of his.

It wasn’t Smith’s complaints about FBI “shenanigans” or his talk about fighting the charges and clearing his name that cause me to take exception. No, that’s all entirely to be expected for someone in his situation.

Where the Chicago Democrat ran off the rails is when he declared:

“The people in my district elected me on March 20, 2012, even after the government charged me with wrongdoing, and that’s because they believed in me.”

That would be a very serious misinterpretation of the results of the Illinois Democratic primary election.

Rep. Smith, nobody believes in you outside perhaps your family and close friends, plus maybe your lawyer and a few other folks who distrust any case brought by the federal government.

There are certainly people who are giving you the benefit of the doubt, who are willing to consider the possibility there is some reasonable explanation for that undercover tape of a government informant counting out a $7,000 cash bribe for you.

There are many more people who believe strongly that you are innocent until proven guilty, no matter the accusations against you.

But even that’s not why you were renominated by voters to the position you originally attained by appointment barely a year ago.

You won the election because you were the endorsed candidate of the Democratic power brokers in your district who stepped in to save you even after your arrest because they did not want the seat to pass into the hands of your primary opponent – a white Republican trying to fool voters into thinking he was a black Democrat.

And the voters in your district went along with the strategy, in large part because they trusted those same Democratic power brokers to step in after the election and clean up the mess by getting rid of you. Simple as that.

If you don’t believe me, maybe you’ll believe the elected officials who invited controversy by going public the weekend before the primary with a call to voters to stick with you.

“I’m a bit disappointed quite frankly,” Congressman Danny K. Davis told me Monday after learning of Smith’s comments. “I would have hoped that Rep. Smith would have resigned his position as a member of the General Assembly.” To be clear, Davis would like him to resign his spot on the ballot as well.

Davis, who headlined the group that urged a vote for Smith after his arrest, said he did so because he “thought it was for the greater good of the district.”

At this time, “the greatest good would be served if Rep. Smith would put people out of their agony [by resigning]. Only he can do that,” Davis added.

Davis said he appreciates that Smith is in a difficult position and he’s entitled to the presumption of innocence, but added: “Sometimes you have to put the good of the group before your individual self.”

Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), chairman of the West Side Black Elected Officials who convened the pre-election press conference backing Smith, also said he should resign.

“The sooner the better,” Mitts told me. “He’s got enough to deal with without holding the district hostage.”

Mitts said Democratic committeemen whose wards encompass Smith’s 10th legislative district are preparing to run an independent candidate against him if he doesn’t step aside. That effort is being organized by Secretary of State Jesse White, Smith’s political mentor, who engineered his appointment.

One thing that struck me after reaching out to these folks Monday is how none of them – not Davis, not Mitts, not White – have had any direct contact with Smith to seek his resignation, relying instead on their public pronouncements to get across the message.

Sometimes the first step in talking sense to someone is to actually talk to him.