Derrick Smith, the former West Side state representative who was accused of taking a bribe and subsequently booted from the Illinois House, is headed back to Springfield.
Smith won the race for Illinois' 10th District House seat in dominant fashion Tuesday night, beating his opponent Lance Tyson 63 percent to 37 percent with 98 percent of precincts reporting.
The U.S. Attorney's office charged Smith with accepting a $7,000 bribe last spring. Smith allegedly accepted the bribe in exchange for recommending a day care program for a state grant. The day care program did not exist - the operation was a sting.
Smith was arrested just a week before the Democratic primary in March, but still ended up winning that election in a landslide. In large part, that's because Illinois' heavy-hitter Democrats came out in force to support the accused candidate.
But after the election, Smith refused overtures from Democratic leaders to step down, and the same Democrats who came out in force to support him now turned against him. Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, the leader of a group of committeemen who originally backed Smith, then picked Tyson to run as a third-party candidate against Smith in the general election.
But, Tyson, a former Todd Stroger aide, got off to a slow start and didn't really begin campaigning until September. By then, the gap to victory had grown too big to overcome.
Although Smith was expelled from the House, he remained on the ballot. And now that he's headed back, House rules say that he can't be expelled for the same reason twice. That means he'll be the district's representative unless he gets convicted of accepting the bribe.
On Tuesday night, speaking alongside Tyson before the candidate's concession speech, at Mahoney's, 551 N. Ogden Ave., White said they got beat by themselves.
"We were beaten by our own organization," White said.
West Side Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), speaking alongside White and Tyson, elaborated on that.
"If it was a heads-up situation, both of them started running at the same time, this wasn't a third-party scenario, Lance would win this race," Burnett said.
When asked whether he regretted backing Smith in the primary, even after his arrest, White said no.
A victorious Smith was greeted warmly by a handful of supporters when he arrived at his election night headquarters at the JLM Abundant Life Community Center, 2622 W. Jackson Blvd. in East Garfield Park. Smith thanked his supporters and the voters who stuck by him even with bribery allegations hanging over his campaign.
His win, he said, is not a vindication of the General Assembly's efforts to remove him from his 10th District House seat, but a demonstration of the will of the people.
"Everyone has their choice, and they made a choice, but the people spoke," Smith said.
He credited his win to getting the truth out as to who the real Democrat was. His opponent, Tyson, ran on the tagline that he was the "Real Democratic" candidate. Smith said he's been in the political arena for over 32 years, and a Democrat all his life, "and today we are showing everyone who is the real Democrat."
When asked if it would be tough working with the same legislature that expelled him, Smith said he had no reservation about going back to the General Assembly.
Former Ald. Ed Smith, who has been Derrick Smith's staunchest supporter, was a bit more critical. He noted some politicians, including Gov. Pat Quinn, overstepped boundaries by supporting an individual who was not the people's choice.
"The people who were opposed to Derrick Smith wasn't listening to the people," said Ed Smith, who is of no relation to the state representative.
He said the move to expel Derrick Smith was akin to convicting him without a trial. The former alderman added that the U.S. Constitution says a person is innocent until proven guilty, and Smith was not afforded that opportunity.
Derrick Smith, however, wanted to make one thing clear: He said there was never a deal for him to step aside once he beat primary opponent Tom Swiss in March, in order for the Democratic Party to pick a replacement candidate.
"I never made a deal with anyone," Smith said. "It wasn't hard for me to stay in the race."