For almost 25 years, Alderman Ed Smith (D-28th) has represented the Austin community. It is the longest active tenure of any African-American elected official in Cook County.
Smith earned his bachelor’s degree from Alcorn State University in Lorman, Miss. and his master’s degree from Northeastern Illinois University.
His run at the aldermanic seat in 1972, 1976, 1979 and 1980 were not successful. However, he finally broke through in 1983, running under a progressive campaign policy of reform. His platform promised to bring down the old system of political corruption in the Chicago City Council.
Now Smith is running for an office other than alderman for the first time since 1996, when he ran against Danny K. Davis, Dorothy Tillman and Bobbie Steele to represent the U.S. 7th Congressional District. The seat had been vacated by retired Congresswoman Cardiss Collins, who chose not to run for re-election that year.
Davis won the election; Smith reflected on that loss.
“I think the seniors didn’t want to vote for me, because they didn’t want to lose me as alderman of the 28th Ward,” Smith said. “Although I think Davis has done a great job.”
Now Smith is running for Cook County Recorder of Deeds against incumbent Eugene Moore. Recently, he was endorsed by Mayor Richard M. Daley.
The endorsement was something of a surprise, since traditionally the mayor has remained quiet when asked to give endorsements involving county Democratic primary elections.
Moore’s camp has fiercely argued against the endorsement, saying that Smith’s ward remains underdeveloped and has a high crime rate.
Smith brushed aside the criticism, saying, “I’m glad to have the endorsement of the mayor. He is a very influential figure, and I appreciate his vote of confidence.”
If Smith is elected as Cook County Recorder of Deeds, he says he will leave the City Council.
However, he has not said whom he would endorse to replace him on the council.
“I think there are a number of candidates that would do a fine job,” said Smith, leaving it at that.
In 2005, Smith became the chief sponsor of a smoking ban in Chicago, a measure that passed by an almost unanimous 47-1 vote in the City Council. That vote inspired Smith to urge a ban throughout the state, which state legislators made a reality on Jan. 1.
Smith the smoking ban legislation it one of his proudest moments in office, although he admits that he hears criticism of the measure on occasion.
“There are definitely people who disagree with the ordinance,” said Smith. “However, when you look at the number of lives that will be saved and the number of people spared of falling victim to illnesses like emphysema, there’s no doubt it will have a positive long-term impact.”
Smith said he has not considered much regarding his political future beyond the Feb. 5 primary election. He said if he is not victorious, he will stay on the City Council, although he does not know how long.
He also deflected a question on whether he would ever consider running for mayor of Chicago.
“I’m just thinking about becoming the recorder of deeds, because I want to make the office current and more efficient with a system that allows easier access to housing data.”
It should be noted that Moore said in an interview with the Austin Weekly News that he has “already brought the office into a more fluid, computerized age, allowing easier access to information on property deeds.”
Smith has been married for 32 years, and is the father of two and grandfather of two.