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Updated 03/20/12 – 10:12 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – State Rep. Derrick Smith (D-Chicago), who was arrested on a federal bribery charge last week, easily defeated challenger Tom Swiss on Tuesday in the Democratic race for the 10th District seat in the Illinois House.
With 94 percent of the precincts reporting, Smith had won 77 percent of the vote, compared to 23 percent for Swiss.
Smith did not speak after his victory, although dozens of supporters celebrated outside his campaign headquarters.
For his part, Swiss said it was difficult to beat Smith with record low turnout for an Illinois primary in a presidential election year, especially when Smith was backed by the Democratic machine.
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“The low turnout was impossible to overcome. You had the political class – that anyone had a city, county, state job is gonna vote with the organization guys,” Swiss said. “And then, also, my association with Republicans in the past was very difficult to overcome with the people that did come out, because they are more of the extreme on the liberal side, so they had no interest whatsoever in even giving me a chance.”
Swiss laughed and said “of course” when asked if he was surprised that a candidate charged with accepting a bribe so close to the election managed to win the vote.
“But it is Chicago. It is Chicago, so there shouldn’t be anything that really surprises you. I told these guys all along that Chicago is known for a lot of political heartbreak,” Swiss added.
Smith was arrested last week on a federal bribery charge. Federal prosecutors said an undercover investigation found he accepted $7,000 to write a letter of recommendation for a daycare center that he thought was seeking a state grant.
He allegedly accepted $7,000 in cash from the aide in exchange for the recommendation letter. The aide was cooperating with the FBI, which had set up a sting. The daycare center itself was real, but the owner Smith was allegedly trying to help was fake.
Smith was appointed state representative for the 10th District, which covers portions of Chicago’s Near West and Near Northwest sides, in March 2011. This was his first bid for election to the legislature.
He has not spoken publicly since his arrest.
Swiss, a former director of the Cook County Republican Party, was running against Smith as a Democrat. Some of his ads in the racially-mixed 10th District have drawn criticism for blurring racial lines. Some of his ads feature his name and his picture — he is white — but other billboards feature his name and the picture of a black construction worker.
Swiss has denied the ads are intended to deceive voters.
Over the weekend, a number of Democratic leaders urged voters to support Smith, despite his arrest, arguing Smith has not yet been convicted. They also said they did not want a Republican winning the Democratic nomination, pointing to Swiss’ past leadership position with the local Republican Party.
If Smith eventually steps down over the bribery charge before the general election, Democratic party officials would choose a replacement for the Democratic nomination.