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Updated 11/08/12 – 3:59 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – Fresh off regaining his seat in the Illinois House on Tuesday, Derrick Smith starred in a wild episode of Chicago-style politics Thursday morning, claiming himself to be “a new man,” and slamming Democratic Party leaders who tried to stop his bid to get back to Springfield.
Ousted from the Illinois General Assembly this summer, Smith won back his seat in the House on Tuesday, defeating Democratic Party-backed independent candidate Lance Tyson.
CBS 2’s Chris Martinez reports Smith and his attorneys addressed the media on Thursday to discuss his election victory.
“Today I stand before you as a new man. I’m excited again about representing the people of the 10th District,” Smith said.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports
Smith did not discuss the charges against him, but thanked the voters of the 10th District on Chicago’s West Side for voting him back into office, by an overwhelming margin of 63 to 37 percent.
“The constituents of the district, they spoke, and it’s about the constituents, it’s not about me,” Smith said.
CBS 2′s Susanna Song reports Smith said he believes he won back his seat because he went out to speak to his constituents after his arrest, and he dismissed speculation that he won because voters in his district traditionally vote a straight Democratic ticket.
“I know that there are a lot of people in the media and elsewhere [who] are saying that I only received votes because I am a Democrat. I think that information is misinformed and insulting to the people of the district,” he said. “I intend to work hard, and work hand-in-hand with those who voted against me, and those who worked against me.”
Smith was expelled from the Illinois House in August, after he refused to step down voluntarily following his March arrest for allegedly taking a $7,000 cash bribe in exchange for supporting a state grant for a daycare center in his district.
Now that he will be returning to the General Assembly, Smith said his focus – outside of defending himself in court – would be on serving the residents of his district.
“I want to devote all my time in making sure that I do what I have to do to make sure the constituents of the 10th District get everything that they deserve, until I can’t do that or represent them again,” Smith said. “I intend also to fight until the battle is over.”
Smith, who has largely avoided the media since his arrest in March, seemed less than enthused to take questions from reporters. He walked out of the press conference after taking only one question, before his attorneys brought him back in to take a few more.
Smith’s bombastic attorneys compared him to some of the most prominent figures in history.
“The people have sent him down there. You know, a lot of people didn’t want Martin Luther King, and there were a lot of ministers who didn’t want Martin Luther King up here in the 60s, because he said he was causing problems. Look what good he did,” Henderson said. “People wanted Nelson Mandela to be quiet, people wanted Jesus to be quiet. So, you know, all of those people have their detractors. People told Jesus to go away, people told Martin Luther King to go away, they told Malcolm [X] to go away.”
Henderson, who had blasted the move to expel Smith from the house as a sham, again slammed lawmakers for rushing to kick Smith out before all the evidence in his criminal case has been presented.
“The process was a charade. That’s offensive to anybody who believes in democracy. We asked for a little bit more time. What evidence do they have down there? They don’t have any evidence. All they have is an allegation,” Henderson said.
The criminal charges against Smith indicate, on March 10, he met with an FBI informant who was wearing a wire, and counted out stacks of cash he gave to Smith.
Quoted in the criminal complaint, the informant said, “One. Two. Three. Four. Five. D—, stuck together. Six. Seven.”
Smith then asked the informant, “You don’t want me to give you yours now?”
That alleged bribe led not only to Smith’s ouster from the House, but to Democratic Party leaders – including Gov. Pat Quinn and Secretary of State Jesse White, Smith’s former political mentor – to pull their support from Smith and back attorney Lance Tyson, who ran under the 10th District Unity Party banner.
Smith said it’s unbelievable that his own party would give $100,000 to support his opponent.
“They did everything they could [to] stopping me from raising monies, but that’s all over. It’s in the past. Today I stand before you as a new man. I’m excited again about representing the people of the 10th District,” Smith said. “I am going to let bygones be bygones. The people of the district, they need good jobs, they need new schools, they need good housing, and … I intend to devote every minute of my time to make sure that I represent them to the best of my ability.”
Quinn and White endorsed Lance Tyson, who ran under the 10th District Unity Party banner after Democratic leaders picked him to run against Smith.
Smith defeated Tyson – who was former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger’s first chief of staff – by a 63 to 37 margin on Tuesday.
Smith said he hasn’t spoken to either Quinn or White since winning back his seat, but said “we shall be talking.”
Smith’s attorneys would not allow him to discuss the bribery charge he is facing; instead, they were quick to get angry about the way Smith has been treated by his own party, even though he hasn’t been convicted of a crime yet.
“I have been appalled by the way the Democratic Party treated Derrick Smith over the last six months, because they wanted his seat,” attorney Victor Henderson said. “Down in Springfield, of all places, they treated him like a dog. … They took this campaign, and twisted it. They twisted it. They’ve made it seem like you’re guilty, until you prove yourself innocent. This affects everybody here, all of us.”
Defense attorney Sam Adam Jr. said Smith’s election victory also gives them hope he’ll also win in court when he goes on trial for the bribery charge.
“Just because the federal government indicts you doesn’t mean that they’re going to be able to prevail,” Adam said. “When Derrick Smith gets in that United States federal district court, and the truth is known, and he’s able to present his defense, and as he puts it out, he’s going to be acquitted.”
Smith’s trial date has not yet been set.
He will officially reclaim his seat in the General Assembly in January when new lawmakers are sworn in.
If lawmakers want to expel him again, they’d have to find a new reason to do so. The state constitution does not allow a lawmaker to be expelled twice for the same offense.
However, he would lose his seat if he’s found guilty of the bribery charge, as convicted felons are not allowed to hold public office at the state or local level in Illinois.