Democrats disown 10th District state representative

Former Stroger aide tapped as third-party candidate against Derrick Smith

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By BEN MEYERSON

Chicago's leading Democrats are ready to take on their disgraced colleague, 10th District state Rep. Derrick Smith, who won in the March primary despite being arrested days before the election for accepting a bribe.

A panel of influential politicians has tapped Lance Tyson, a top aide to former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, to run against Smith in the general election. A lawyer who also worked as a General Assembly liaison to the mayor's office, Tyson was Stroger's chief-of-staff before resigning from that post. He'll run against Smith under the "10th District Unity Party" banner.

Local Democrats have been unable to convince Smith to step down. The incumbent state rep won his primary battle against Tom Swiss, a former head of the Chicago Republican Party.

One week before the March 20 Primary, Smith was arrested by the FBI on charges that he accepted a $7,000 bribe to write a letter of recommendation for a grant to a fake day care center. Despite the cloud of corruption circling the incumbent, Smith went on to win the primary with 77 percent of the vote.

Yet, Democrats have been pushing for the resignation of Smith, who has proclaimed his innocence.

The decision to go with another candidate was made by a group of Democratic committeemen led by Secretary of State Jesse White and 28th Ward Ald. Jason Ervin. Tyson was picked from a group of three finalists that included a Chicago police officer and Ervin's girlfriend, insurance manager Melissa Conyears.

"This will not be an easy campaign," White said after announcing the group's decision. "We want to make sure you hit the ground running."

Tyson stepped down as Stroger's chief of staff after a year and a half to work at his own law firm, which specializes in helping cities sell bonds. From 1998 until 2003, he was Mayor Daley's legislative liaison in Springfield, a position that he said gave him an understanding of how politics works in Illinois.

After being announced as the nominee, Tyson declined to say anything negative about his former boss, Stroger, though he didn't praise the former county president either, saying simply he was proud of the work he did with the county.

Tyson needs to get 1,500 signatures in order to get on the ballot. He said he's ready to do that, get out and let people know why they should vote for him. But he faces an uphill battle in getting traditional Democratic voters to back his third-party candidacy.

"I think the first move is massive education, and what that will require for me is hitting the streets," he said.

"That's what I plan to do, is to hit every single precinct up in the 10th legislative district, and knock on as many doors as possible that'll let me in and tell my story - let them know that they, in fact, have a choice."

Ben Meyerson is editor of Chicago Journal

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