By ABDON M. PALLASCH, DAVE MCKINNEY and LYNN SWEET Staff Reporters March 18, 2012 10:36PM
In the parks, churches, bowling alleys and VFW halls of Illinois, candidates for president, state supreme court, state representative and every office in-between made their last-minute pitches before Tuesday's primary elections.
Perhaps the most audacious plea came from West Side Democratic elected officials who urged voters to support an Illinois House member charged with bribery. It looks bad, they acknowledged, but it will prevent the seat from falling into the hands of Republicans.
The rally in support of appointed state Rep. Derrick Smith (D-Chicago) featured U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), three aldermen and a county commissioner and even adopted a catchy moniker: "No defeat or retreat — keep the Dem seat."
"There's nothing wrong with being a Republican, except that if people are going to vote for a Republican, they ought to know they're voting for a Republican," Davis said, referring to Smith's Republican-turned-Democrat rival, Tom Swiss.
Smith was arrested last week by federal prosecutors after being secretly recorded while allegedly accepting a $7,000 bribe in exchange for writing a letter of support for a daycare center seeking a $50,000 state grant.
Gov. Pat Quinn on Saturday tiptoed around Smith's bribery charge, calling his race against Swiss a "tough call for voters," but one "they'll be able to sort out."
Swiss, the former executive director of the Cook County Republican Party — who is white but uses images of African-Americans on billboards and mailers in this predominantly black district — teed off on his critics: "I think it's inexcusable that they're reinforcing the culture of corruption by asking voters to support Derrick Smith, a man that was arrested and caught red-handed for taking a bribe," Swiss told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Smith has not returned phone calls from the Sun-Times since his arrest.
Ald. Scott Waugespack (32nd), who is unopposed for Democratic Ward Committeeman, said he will suggest to Jesse White — who holds the lion's share of the weighted vote in the district — that a stricter vetting process be used to pick a replacement for Smith.
"I think we have to appoint someone with more independence," Waugespack said. "I want to talk to Jesse White and say I think we can't keep picking people like Anazette Collins and Derrick Smith, who are going to have ethics problems. I think we need to do a better vetting process."