CHICAGO – An indicted Chicago Democrat who won his seat back despite having been expelled from the Illinois House over bribery allegations said Thursday he's determined to work closely again with legislative colleagues, including those who turned against him.
Derrick Smith, who refused calls from Democratic Party leaders to take his name off the ballot and was easily elected Tuesday, said he believes he can repair ties and work "hand in hand" again with his colleagues, even while fighting federal bribery charges.
"Individuals, members of the party, tried to defeat me," Smith said. "But that's all over, that's in the past. Today I stand before you as a new man."
Smith is accused of accepting a $7,000 bribe in exchange for supporting a grant application for a daycare center. He has pleaded not guilty.
When he refused to withdraw from the race, Democrats picked another candidate to run against him under a third party they created. Lawmakers voted him out of the House in August in the first such expulsion in more than a century.
Now that he's won his seat back, Smith can't be expelled from the House again over the same allegations.
Smith said he hasn't heard since the election from Gov. Pat Quinn or Secretary of State Jesse White, two of the prominent Democrats who had abandoned him.
"I have not talked to them as of yet, but we shall be talking," Smith said.
The governor's office declined to comment on Smith's election victory.
Republican Rep. Jim Durkin, who argued for Smith's expulsion in House committee hearings earlier this year, said his return to the Legislature would add to Illinois' sometimes embarrassing political history.
"We'll all be down there in January and we'll be on the same stage with soon-to-be-Rep. Derrick Smith all taking the same oath of office. ... That is going to be one surreal moment," he said.
"I just can't in good faith work with him," Durkin said.
Others, including Waukegan Democrat Rita Mayfield, said they were reserving judgment until a court verdict.
"I hope he's innocent. If he's not, then I'm sure appropriate action will be taken," said Mayfield, who voted against Smith's expulsion. "But as far as working with him on a committee, we're all elected to do a job for our constituents."
Speaking to reporters Thursday at his attorney's office, Smith said his constituents have spoken and he is excited to return to his House seat to get to work for them.
"I am going to let bygones be bygones," he said. "And 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 abilities."
Smith's attorney, Victor Henderson, hammered the Democratic leadership in the state capital for maneuvering to try to push Smith out before a court decides his case.
"They made it seem like you're guilty until you're proven innocent," Henderson said.