West Side state rep. race pits Democrat against Democrat

November 1, 2012
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“Don’t even think about coming over here with that, I’m voting straight ticket,” J.W. Moore shouted across the street to Illinois House 10th District candidate Lance Tyson. “If you’re not a Democrat, I don’t want to hear from you.”

Moore laughed as Tyson made his way over to the porch in the 4100 block of West Adams Street.

“No but see, I’m the real Democrat,” Tyson said as he pointed to a decade-old picture of himself standing next to then-state Sen. Barack Obama.

That photograph, featured prominently on Tyson’s campaign literature and web site, is the candidate’s typical entrée with voters in the West Side district, a way of establishing his bona fides as “the REAL Democrat,” as his handouts put it.

Such an effort is necessary because Tyson is not running as a Democrat; he is the first, and probably last, candidate of the 10th District Unity Party, a party started by Secretary of State Jesse White and the other Democratic committeeman within the 10th District to challenge Democratic nominee and former State Rep. Derrick Smith.

Smith won the nomination March 20 despite having been  arrested a week earlier for allegedly accepting a $7,000 bribe from a campaign worker who was cooperating with the FBI.

“He said he would step down after the primary, and he didn’t,” Tyson said.

The 10th District is shaped something like an L lying on its back, with its head just over the the Austin border at Cicero Avenue. Garfield Park and the southern portion of Humboldt Park make up most of the district, but as the boundary gets closer to the lake, the district lines curve north and include sections of Lincoln Park, Wicker Park and Bucktown.

Garfield Park and Wicker Park don’t share many of the same concerns. The residents of Garfield Park are most worried about the violence and crime in their area, while Wicker Park and Bucktown residents are more concerned with property taxes and neighborhood schools.

Tyson said his first priority if elected would be getting legislation passed giving employers a tax incentive for hiring ex-convicts. He said giving offenders a chance to earn a living will stop the cycle of violence and crime plaguing much of the 10th District.

“A man is going to provide for his family one way or another,” Tyson said. “We need to help that be within the [law].”

The residents of Garfield Park greeted his plan with enthusiasm as he went door to door in the neighborhood Oct. 20.

“I’m an ex-convict, and I need a second chance,” said Tommy Tate. “We all need a second chance.”

Tyson is an attorney who runs his own law firm, The Tyson Law Group and spent five years as Mayor Richard M. Daley’s legislative counsel in Springfield. He also served a year-and-a-half as Cook County President Todd Stroger’s first chief of staff.

Smith was expelled by the Illinois House of Representatives in August by a vote of 100 to 6. He is able to run because he has not been convicted. He had served in Springfield for only a year when he was indicted, having been appointed to the position in March 2011.

Smith worked under White as the deputy director of accounting revenue for the Secretary of State when he was appointed to the Illinois General Assembly. He had never held political office before his appointment last year.

“I’ve known [Smith] since he was a child, and I was instrumental in appointing him to replace Annazette Collins when she moved up to become a senator,” White said. “He took a $7,000 bribe. Derrick Smith sold us out.”

White joined Gov. Pat Quinn and several other Chicago-area politicians at a press conference Oct. 21 announcing Quinn’s endorsement of Tyson. Most of the area’s Democrats have endorsed Tyson, and a look at his campaign contributions filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections show he is getting support from party mainstays like trial lawyers and labor unions.

Several of Tyson’s contributors gave to Smith’s campaign before the indictment in March, including IBEW Local 134 and the Credit Union Political Action Council.

Tyson said Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan has been making calls on his behalf to help him raise money.

Since July 1, Tyson has reported receiving more than $100,000 in contributions, including $40,000 of his own money, while Smith has garnered only $1,050 in monetary contributions, and Democratic State Rep. Bob Rita (28th) lent him about $8,000-worth of campaign workers at the beginning of July, according to Illinois State Board of Elections filings.

Before the indictment Smith did not have trouble fundraising; he received more than $90,000 in the 10 weeks immediately preceding his indictment.

Smith did not return several calls and e-mails asking for comment for this story, but he has been out campaigning. On Oct. 20, while Tyson went door to door in Garfield Park, Smith’s postcards could be seen sticking out of mailboxes and littering the sidewalk.

In an editorial submitted to AustinTalks, former Ald. Ed Smith declared his support for Derrick Smith and called him a “sensitive man” with a “warm heart,” who is running a “clean, above board campaign.”

“Secretary Jesse White brought Derrick to the table to be appointed state representative, and now he is backing away from Derrick Smith claiming that he has several adverse issues. If Derrick has several issues now, Jesse White knew he had issues when he got him appointed. Derrick Smith has not been convicted of a crime, hasn’t had a trial, and he is innocent until proven guilty and he is the only Democrat on the ballot,” Smith wrote in an email. “His opponent … isn’t registered in the 10th District, and he does not live in the 10th District.”

Tyson concedes he does not live in the 10th District, but said he was removed from the district when the boundary lines were redrawn.

“My opponent, whether maliciously or otherwise, gerrymandered me out of the district,” Tyson said.

However, Tyson has never lived in the district. His home in the 1400 block of West Walton Street is in the 4th District, as it has been since 2001, the last time the boundaries were changed.

“I’m not sure what district I was in before, whether it was the 4th District or the 10th District, but because there is some overlap I am able to run,” Tyson said.

When the Illinois General Assembly redrew the maps in October 2011, a chunk of Tyson’s 4th District became a part of the new 10th District. Even though Tyson’s home was unaffected, the Illinois constitution allows him to run in either district.

One moment during Tyson’s recent campaigning highlighted just how important this election is for the 10th District.

In an alley in the 4100 block between West Jackson and West Adams, an endearing scene turned sad quickly.

Tyson greeted a group of five girls, each about 8 years old, and asked them if they knew what a state representative does. “Make laws,” the girls shouted back to him, giggling.

“And what laws would you like to see?” Tyson asked.

“Oooh, ooh, stop the violence!” one of the girls shouted with her hand raised.

Another told him that earlier in the day a man had been killed just a few blocks away at West Madison Street and Pulaski Road.

“He got shot in the back of the head, and he had to be put in a body bag,” she said.

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