Derrick Smith, a former Illinois state representative who was indicted, kicked out of his seat yet won it back in this week’s election, gave some justifications for why he won. On Thursday Smith and his attorneys held an energetic news conference that at times verged on theater at their office in downtown Chicago.
Smith said he won the 10th State House seat back because he has a close relationship with the constituents. Smith criticized the idea that he only won because he was labeled as the Democrat on the ballot, despite the fact that he often reminded voters that he was the Democrat in the race in campaign literature and in media interviews.
The 10th State House district covers parts of Chicago’s West Side, Wicker Park and Lincoln Park.
One of Smith’s attorneys, Sam Adam, Jr., said 10th District voters knew what they were voting for when they cast their ballots.
“They voted for him because of the presumption of evidence – I mean, the presumption of innocence and they know that he was going to represent them to the best of his ability,” Adam said.
Smith has pleaded not guilty to the federal charges that he allegedly accepted a $7,000 bribe in exchange for writing a letter of recommendation for a nursery’s grant application. Federal prosecutors say Smith was secretly recorded saying that he wanted the $7,000 in cash because, “I don’t want no trace of it.”
When a reporter asked Smith at Thursday’s news conference whether he took the money, Smith’s attorney, Victor Henderson, intervened and said, “He’s not answering under our advice. When we get there, the whole story will come out and it’ll be quite a story.”
Henderson went on to say that Smith was duped by a con man.
“A con man with a horrific record. A con man who has been convicted of lying by deception, that’s what the government’s case is built around,” Henderson said.
Henderson also alluded that Smith may not be the target of the federal prosecutors’ investigation, saying they may be targeting Secretary of State Jesse White, a onetime proponent of Smith’s.
“Twelve months ago, 14 months ago, 18 months ago, Derrick Smith wasn’t on anybody’s radar screen. So, maybe the case isn’t really about Derrick Smith,” Henderson said.
Dave Drucker, a spokesman for White, said those claims are baseless and that Henderson should focus on his own client.
After Smith was arrested in March, Democratic leaders on Chicago’s West Side encouraged the constituents in his district to vote for Smith because they said his opponent was a Republican trying to run as a Democrat in the heavily Democratic district. After Smith won, officials expected him to resign his seat. When Smith refused to step down, the House of Representatives voted to kick him out of his seat, the first time that had happened in Springfield in more than 100 years.
The Illinois constitution does not allow members of the General Assembly to forcibly remove a legislator twice for the same reason. When asked at a news conference Wednesday whether the House should try to kick Smith out again, Gov. Pat Quinn said, “We’ll let that go by for now.”
State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, the Democrat who chaired the special House committee investigating Smith that eventually recommended Smith be ousted, said Thursday, “I have no idea what time the, when the timetable for a federal trial. I can only tell you that our hands are tied unless Mr. Smith were to commit some other egregious act that would result in triggering the same set of circumstances that led to the ouster in August.”
In Smith’s limited appearance at Thursday’s news conference, he said he’s ready to get to work in Springfield.
“I am going to let bygones be bygones,” Smith said of working with the 100 House members who voted to kick him out. “And the people of the district, they need good jobs. They need new schools. They need good housing and they intend – I intend to devote every minute of my time to make sure that I represent them to the best of my ability.”
Meantime, Henderson framed Smith as a trailblazer in Springfield, and an independent voice standing up to all the legislators who have worked against him.
“There were a lot of ministers who didn’t want Martin Luther King up here in the '60s because he said he was causing problems. Look what good he did. People wanted Nelson Mandela to be quiet. People wanted Jesus to be quiet,” Henderson said.