Political maneuvering behind the scenes in the 10th Legislative District race may factor into whether an expelled House member regains his General Assembly seat or if a third party candidate becomes the new state rep of that West Side district.
In one corner there is political heavyweight Jesse White, secretary of state, who is backing Unity Party candidate Lance Tyson, an attorney, a Springfield lobbyist and a one-time aide to former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger.
On the other side is former 28th Ward alderman and Democratic committeeman Ed Smith, who is supporting ex-state rep Derrick Smith (no relation). Derrick Smith was expelled from his House seat in August for allegedly accepting a $7,000 bribe. He has not been charged in
It may seem like a test of wills among two noted black political figures, but for Ed Smith, the race simply boils down to determining who is the real Democrat running in this race. He contends that is Derrick Smith and questioned his former Democratic ward committeemen's reasoning for going outside the party to find someone to run against Derrick Smith, who could not be reached for this article.
"Right now he is the only Democrat on the ballot," Ed Smith said. "The other candidate is running under a different party. So you would have to go outside of the Democratic Party to vote for [Tyson]."
But as White tells it, the ward committeemen had no choice but to create a third party candidate. White said that Derrick Smith reneged on a deal to step aside after defeating Tom Swiss, a white candidate who ran as a Democrat despite being former chairman of the Cook County Republican Party.
Democrats supported Smith's campaign on the notion that he would step down so the party could pick a replacement candidate. But he chose to stay on and seek re-election. White said he was disappointed in Smith, whom he had originally mentored and touted for the 10th Legislative District seat.
Smith was appointed to the post after Annazette Collins was elevated to state senator. She lost her re-election bid for that post to former mayoral candidate Patricia Van Pelt-Watkins, also backed by White.
White said creating the Unity Party and backing Tyson is about "honesty in government and character." Derrick Smith, he said, was fired from his streets and sanitation job over inappropriate use of personnel and then fired from the Legislature. He noted Smith is the first politician, and the first black in 107 years, to be expelled from the General Assembly.
White likened the Smith debacle to that of former Washington D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, who was re-elected to office even though he was arrested by the FBI and caught on tape doing drugs.
"I don't want that to be a part of my legacy or a part of the history for the state of Illinois and for the people on the West Side, considering that we had nine people who have already been to jail and another three on the bubble," White said. "We don't want any more. We don't deserve any more. We should not even think about pulling this guy's number to allow him to go back into a body that has already dismissed him."
While White called Tyson "sharp" with great credentials and character, Ed Smith was more critical. He contends Tyson does not live in the 10th District nor has he done any work to help district residents.
"If you've done anything in politics in this district, I would know you," Ed Smith said.
He contends that Derrick Smith has every right to run for office. He said he is supporting him because he has not been charged with a crime and is innocent until proven guilty.
"If Derrick Smith was a guilty candidate, I would not be working for Derrick Smith. But he is not guilty," Ed Smith said. "He has not had a court trail. He has not been tried by his peers. He is a qualified and bonified candidate who is on the ballot as a Democrat."
Tyson, who has poured more than $40,000 of his own money into his campaign, said he is the real Democrat. He has already amassed the support of Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, Cook County Commissioner John Daley, aldermen Jason Ervin (28th), Joe Moreno (1st), Scott Waguespack (32nd), Emma Mitts (37th) and Bob Fioretti (2nd).
"Folks do realize that I am the real Democrat," Tyson said, "from the governor, to secretary of state to sheriff of Cook County. All the Democrats in the area have stepped up and supported my campaign."
Even House Speaker Michael Madigan has signed onto Tyson's campaign. Madigan's spokesperson, Steve Brown, wouldn't say if the Democratic Party has donated to Tyson's campaign, but he noted that Tyson has been getting funding from all "sectors."
"For a number of weeks, Rep. Madigan has been supporting Mr. Tyson," Brown said. "He has been in contact with Democratic leaders in that district and in that part of Chicago, urging them to be supportive of Mr. Tyson's campaign."
However, Tyson said the real reason he is in the race was to give district residents a choice and not have their vote thrown away. He called it a "farce" to think that Derrick Smith, if elected, would be able to secure resources for organizations in the district.
"There is no way they will be able to go to my opponent and get any type of resources back into the community," Tyson said. "A vote for my opponent would be a vote for zero competence."
Tyson said he will be caucusing with the Democratic Party once elected.
Tyson has been hitting the campaign trail, knocking on doors and visiting churches. He has been touting efforts to create a tax credit for employers to hire ex-offenders. He noted that 70 percent of the males west of Western Avenue are ex-offenders. He believes government has a role to play in ensuring men can be men.
"Part of being a man is taking care of your family, and you are either going to do that through the criminal enterprise or the free enterprise [system]," said Tyson, who worked with President Obama when he was a state legislator to pass several bills, including one that brought over 75,000 jobs to Chicago.
"Permitting men to be men through free enterprise would - lessen violence because you can't lock everybody up. You've got to provide opportunities," he said.
When asked about his residency, Tyson did note that he was gerrymandered out of the 10th District with the new legislative remap. But he reiterated that the Illinois Constitution allows a candidate to be elected to the General Assembly from any district that previously contained a part of the district in which he resided at the time of the redistricting.