Madigan looks past his candidate’s alleged bribery

It comes as no surprise that House Speaker Michael Madigan is helping state Rep. Derrick Smith win another term representing Chicago’s Near West Side. This is Illinois.

More precisely, this is Madigan’s Illinois. A brief history tour:

With the clout of Secretary of State Jesse White, Smith was appointed in 2011 to an open House seat. A year later, Madigan’s attorneys helped Smith’s election chances by getting a rival candidate kicked off the March 2012 primary ballot. When the U.S. Department of Justice charged Smith one week before the primary with accepting a $7,000 bribe, Democrats helped him win anyway.

They had a plan. Madigan’s House expelled Smith in August 2012, five months after his arrest. But Smith was still on the ballot for the November 2012 general election, and it was too late for the Democrats to put up another candidate. So they formed a new political party and picked Lance Tyson, former chief of staff to ex-Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, to run under a third-party label.

But guess what: Voters picked Smith over Tyson. All that Democratic Party maneuvering didn’t pay off. Smith was right back in his old House seat.

Fast-forward to now: Madigan is helping Smith retain his seat, as the Sun-Times reported Wednesday. Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said the speaker supports incumbents and believes in “innocent until proven guilty.”

Except when Madigan doesn’t believe that, like when his House expelled Smith on a 100-6 vote.

Madigan could have decided to stay out of Smith’s race this year. The speaker, who also chairs the Democratic Party of Illinois, is under no obligation to support a state representative who faces federal bribery charges and an October trial.

Smith is accused of accepting a $7,000 bribe for writing a letter on behalf of a day care operator seeking a $50,000 state grant. An informant working with the FBI caught Smith on tape, discussing the cash payoff, according to the criminal complaint against him.

Voters in the 10th District have better choices.

Eddie Winters is the perceived front-runner on the March 18 ballot against Smith. Winters served the district briefly when Smith was expelled from the House. He is a police sergeant who wants to see more accountability in Chicago Public Schools, similar to the Chicago Police Department’s approach of weekly meetings that hold commanders accountable for crime statistics in their districts.

“I’m not running to be loved and liked,” Winters told us. “I’m running to save our community.”

Also in the race: Pamela Reaves-Harris, a sharp, experienced attorney who grew up in Cabrini-Green public housing, graduated from the University of Illinois, raised two daughters after a divorce, and sent them both to college.

“I believe in doing what’s right. We need someone with integrity and a strong moral compass,” she said.

Antwan Hampton is a communications professor at Northern Illinois University who decided to run to combat Chicago’s “self-serving” political environment. His story: He grew up in Harvey, dropped out of high school after his freshman year, eventually earned a diploma, joined the Army and completed a doctorate. He sees dependence on government programs as stifling the growth of his community and wants parents to be more responsible for their children’s educations.

“I never believed the welfare state ever served its purpose. It’s supposed to be for when you fall on hard times, and we help you get on your feet. Now it’s a lifestyle,” he told us.

Also running in the Democratic primary is Beverly Perteet, a community activist who fought the Chicago Public Schools closings. She says she knows firsthand, as a former CPS teacher, the challenges of teaching children who come from broken homes.

What a shame that Madigan is siding with the indicted and indebted-to-him Smith against a strong and accomplished field of opponents.

A shame. But not a surprise:

Voters may want the best candidate to win.

Madigan wants his guy.

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