As Dems prepare to pick challenger to Derrick Smith, a potential romantic conflict of interest

May 22, 2012

(AP/Seth Perlman)
Illinois Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Chicago.

Democratic leaders in Chicago say they'll pick a third party candidate Wednesday to run against a fellow Democrat, state Rep. Derrick Smith. Smith faces a federal bribery charge and is refusing to quit.

Top Democrats interviewed applicants for several hours on Tuesday, but emerged from closed-door deliberations to say they'd reached a "stalemate."

"We have not been able to arrive at the candidate of our choice," said Secretary of State Jesse White, the Democratic committeeman from the city's 27th Ward.

White said the group, now known as the 10th District Unity Party, was able to narrow the field to three finalists: Melissa Conyears, who works for Allstate Insurance, lawyer Lance Tyson and police officer Eddie Winters.

A romantic conflict?

After the meeting, a candidate who didn't make the cut, Beverly Perteet, complained that one of the Democratic committeemen had a personal conflict of interest. Perteet and others gathered outside a West Loop union hall alleged that 28th Ward Ald. Jason Ervin is romantically involved with Conyears.

Asked if he was romantically involved with Conyears, the alderman replied, "I don't think that has any bearing on the decision that's being made."

And if they are - hypothetically - involved, does Ervin think that would impact how he'd vote?

"No," he said.

Reached by phone, Conyears would only say she and Ervin are "friends." She said she sees no conflict for the alderman.

Tyson might run anyway

Tyson said if he is not picked to be the Unity Party candidate, he "reserves the right" to run as an independent.

Tyson pointed out that he announced an independent challenge to Smith even before Democratic officials launched their third-party effort. But he is hoping to run with party support.

"I completely respect the party - I am a Democrat. I want to go through that process. I've committed to do that, and that's what I'm going to do," said Tyson, who is a former chief of staff to then-Cook County Board President Todd Stroger.

What's next?

The Democratic committeemen meet again Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. in the West Loop to go over additional information provided by the finalists. White said they will have a decision "for sure" by 3:30 p.m.

White said he is "positive" than any of the three finalists would be able to defeat Smith in the November election.

"We will have to spend quite a bit of money, yes. But we're prepared to do what is necessary because we want to make sure that the people of the 10th Representative District are properly represented," White said.