State lawmaker charged with bribery cruises to primary victory
State Rep. Derrick Smith leaves the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse last week. (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune)
Even before unofficial results rolled in, some sitting Republican lawmakers were bound to lose in DuPage County, casualties of the Democratic-drawn state legislative districts. The map is tilted so heavily toward Democrats that the party led by House Speaker Michael Madigan, the Illinois Democratic chairman, is all but ensured November general election victories that could set it on a course to control the General Assembly for the next decade.
Democratic leaders showed no signs of backing away from rookie Rep. Derrick Smith, a west Chicago Democrat, even after he was accused of taking a $7,000 cash bribe in a federal sting caught on an undercover recording. Madigan poured more than $60,000 into Smith's race against Tom Swiss, a former ranking member of the Cook County Republican Party, before the bribery charge. Democratic leaders are expected to pressure Smith to resign and appoint a new candidate for the fall campaign.
Swiss conceded when only 59 percent of the precincts had reported because Smith led 76 percent to 32 percent, saying it was "mathematically impossible" to win. "My opponent was arrested by the FBI last week, but if you're not on Madigan's team, you'll have a hard time," Swiss said. With 98 percent of the districts reporting, Smith held a 77 percent to 23 percent edge, according to unofficial results.
Two marquee Republican Senate races in DuPage pitted Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale against Rep. Chris Nybo, a former Elmhurst alderman, and Sen. Carole Pankau of Itasca against Rep. Randy Ramey of Carol Stream, the stepson of former Senate President James "Pate" Philip. Dillard declared victory, calling the results "a referendum on my leadership style," and an aide to Nybo said he was calling Dillard to concede.
Pankau declared victory in a close race with Ramey, who did not concede late Tuesday but said "the race is over."
The map engineered by Madigan created the biggest legislative primary election in 10 years. Even the speaker faced a sincere challenge, from political neophyte Michele Piszczor. To no one's surprise, he crushed her and declared victory, thanking troops at his victory party and saying, "We ran a real strong campaign."
Piszczor said she will run again in two years if Madigan is on the ballot: "It's not going to stop here for me." Chicago's West Side produced a raucous fight between appointed Sen. Annazette Collins, a longtime House lawmaker who filled the vacancy when ex-Sen. Rickey Hendon abruptly quit, and Patricia Van Pelt Watkins, a former mayoral candidate. With more than 90 percent of precincts reporting, Watkins declared victory as she led 53 to 46 percent.
Secretary of State Jesse White had thrown his West Side operation behind Watkins and heavily criticized Collins over how she distributed legislative scholarships, saying several went to college students outside the district.
In other Chicago races, Christian Mitchell faced Kenny Johnson in the Democratic race for an open House seat that stretches from the Gold Coast south through parts of Hyde Park and Bronzeville.
In an open House seat on the Southwest Side, Rudy Lozano Jr., the son of a slain activist of the same name, was in a tight race against Silvana Tabares, former managing editor of a bilingual community newspaper.
A North Side House Democratic race featured two openly lesbian candidates. Appointed Rep. Kelly Cassidy, who took the job when Harry Osterman became the 48th Ward alderman, declared victory over Paula Basta, regional director of the Northeast Levy Senior Center. With 88 percent of the votes tallied, Cassidy led 62 to 38 percent.
In a Northwest Side House contest, Democratic challenger Will Guzzardi was trailing Rep. Maria "Toni" Berrios, daughter of county Assessor Joe Berrios, the county Democratic chairman. She was up with 51 to 48 percent with 84 percent of precincts reporting.
In the Democratic race to replace the Rev. James Meeks, of Chicago, who is stepping down from the Senate, former NFL linebacker Napoleon Harris, of Flossmoor, declared victory in his three-way race. Donna Miller, of Lynwood, the wife of former Rep. David Miller, conceded to Harris late Tuesday, and attorney Patricia Mahon, the deputy village administrator in South Holland, was running third.
In an Aurora-area Democratic race, Ald. Stephanie Kifowit, a Marine veteran backed by Madigan, was leading two-to-one and declared victory over flight attendant Alex Arroyo and lawyer Carole Cheney in the Democratic primary for the newly drawn 84th House District, which has no incumbent because it was created to reflect population growth since the last census.
After a string of high-profile losses for higher office, dairy owner Jim Oberweis declared victory in the GOP primary for a Senate seat that encompasses southern and western Kane and northern Kendall counties. Oberweis, of Sugar Grove, faced Blackberry Township Supervisor David Richmond, who conceded, and West Aurora school board member Richard Slocum, who was a distant third.
Republican Rep. Kent Gaffney of Lake Barrington lost the primary race for the seat he was appointed to last summer to two-time congressional candidate David McSweeny of Barrington Hills.
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