Indicted pol's status is bad joke

Indicted pol's status is bad joke

Hey, did you hear the one about the indicted politician running for re-election?

With the state's financial problems bad and getting worse, one would think that Gov. Pat Quinn and his fellow Democrats who run the state would have enough problems on their plates.

But there's one more minor dilemma they have to resolve, one that would be really embarrassing in most states.

Their problem is Chicago political wannabe Derrick Smith.

Before the March 20 primary, Democrats were worried about whether Smith would win renomination. They wanted to keep his seat in the fold even if they didn't want him.

Now that the primary election is over and Smith is safely nominated, Democrats are worried about how to persuade Smith to resign his House seat and withdraw his name from the November general election ballot.

What's the problem?

On March 13, Smith, a political protege of Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, was named in a federal indictment alleging that he accepted a $7,000 bribe to persuade state officials to award a $50,000 government contract to a specific day-care facility.

Smith, of course, is presumed innocent in the eyes of the law, and the government bears the burden of proof if and when the case goes to trial.

But the government has a recording of the payoff, and its contents probably won't leave much to jurors' imaginations about Smith's intent.

Of course, what's one more corrupt public official in Illinois? After all, the state has two former governors in federal prison. It's not as if Illinois voters are shocked by the idea that some of their elected officials are more interested in self-service than public service.

Nonethess, Democrats perceive Smith's situation as a potential problem from a public relations standpoint. That's why they've mounted a media campaign to try to persuade him to drop out of the House and off the ballot.

Gov. Quinn has called for Smith's resignation. Secretary White has announced that he's "not a happy camper" and wants Smith gone. Smith's fellow Democratic and Republican legislators in the House, for different reasons, have organized a special committee to determine whether they should expel Smith.

What's Smith's reaction to all this?

He's lying low while he continues to collect his state paycheck.

For starters, Smith needs the money to hire a lawyer. Second, if he resigns now under political pressure he'll forfeit the possibility of getting a break in his sentence if he resigns his House seat as part of a plea agreement.

Members of the House committee investigating Smith were prepared to start their proceedings against him. But the committee suddenly postponed its plans late last week because committee chairwoman Rep. Elaine Nekritz announced "we have learned that there is a possibility of further court action in the criminal proceeding" later this week.

Maybe Smith will do his fellow Democrats a favor and plead guilty.

If so, this case would be concluded in record time. If not, Smith's status as an indicted Democrat seeking re-election will continue to embarrass his party in a year when voters look to be especially impatient with business as usual.

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