For a year and a half — from December 2006 until May 2008 — Tyson, a lifelong Democrat, served as chief of staff for former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, who was so generally reviled that when he ran for re-election at the end of his first term in 2010, he finished last in the four-candidate primary that Preckwinkle won.
"I've spent the last two years of my life trying to clean up the messes of my predecessor and his minions," Preckwinkle told me earlier this week. "As Todd Stroger's chief of staff, (Tyson) was his agent and so shares the responsibility for how badly things were run. He can't dissociate himself from the ineptitude and bad acts of the person he worked with."
But two things:
First, Tyson does try to dissociate himself somewhat from Stroger, who all but inherited the seat from his father, John. Tyson told me he tried to keep Stroger focused on battling the tough financial challenges the county faced, and pointed out that he gave up in frustration less than halfway through Stroger's term.
Second, whatever Todd-stink still lingers on Tyson is mild compared to the foul cloud in the West Side legislative district that envelops his opponent, Derrick Smith.
Smith, who formerly held the seat, is facing trial in federal court on charges he took a $7,000 bribe in a sting operation. In August, based on that allegation, his colleagues in the Illinois House voted 100-6 to expel him.
But by that time he had already won the Democratic primary, so he'll be on the November ballot attempting to win his old seat back for a two-year term.
And if Smith prevails — Tyson is his only opponent and a recent We Ask America poll in the district showed Smith nearly 40 percentage points in front — the House will be unable to oust him again because Article IV of the Illinois Constitution decrees that "a member may be expelled only once for the same offense."
A victorious Smith would hold the seat until and unless he's convicted of bribery, at which point his expulsion would be automatic. But his trial isn't even scheduled yet, so there's no telling when there will be a verdict.
It was a national story in March when Smith won the primary — with party backing! — one week after his arrest.
But the Democrats who rallied around him were simply trying to make the best of a bad situation, not wanting to yield the seat to the Republican-in-disguise who was facing Smith in the primary, and figuring leadership could muscle Smith out for the general election.
When Smith wouldn't budge, a group of Democratic Party officials got together and backed Tyson for a third-party challenge.
It will be a national scandal if Smith wins in November.
This will be the summary: Illinois Democrats were so blase about corruption that they didn't work hard to prevent the election of a candidate facing felony corruption charges.
And this will be the background: Though Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and Democratic Secretary of State Jesse White endorsed Tyson along with a raft of lesser officeholders, a number of key party members remained on the sidelines.
Preckwinkle was still nursing a political grudge and so stayed out of it (though she did say she'd vote for Tyson if she lived in the district).
Michael Madigan, speaker of the Illinois House and chairman of the state Democratic Party, declined to get involved, saying through a spokesman that "one way or another, the voters will send a Democrat to Springfield." His daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, did not take a position.
U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, in whose district this drama is playing out, remained neutral.
Voters were left to ask, does the Illinois Democratic Party stand for anything other than self-perpetuation?
Did these bystanders and hand-wringers have so little perspective that they enabled the writing of another disgraceful chapter in our state's political history?
Less than six weeks remain to change that story.
Continue the conversation at chicagotribune.com/zorn.