- John H. White/Sun-Times Media
- If you see Rep Derrick Smith, please ask him to check his voice mail. And his e-mail.
Anybody seen Derrick Smith?
He’s the state representative for the near-north and west-side Tenth District, but he doesn’t seem to be available right now—or last week, or the year before.
In fairness, Smith has a lot going on. He’s currently immersed in a primary election battle against four opponents. This means he’s staying busy avoiding public candidates’ forums that would require him to go through the inefficient process of explaining what he’s done for his district.
Plus, he has to find time to say yes to house speaker Michael Madigan, who believes so strongly in Smith’s record of not being a Republican that he’s sent money and staff to help the reelection effort.
And if that weren’t enough, Smith has to continue to prepare for his May trial in federal court for allegedly taking a $7,000 bribe.
Smith has shown the ability to navigate such demands before. He was appointed to the seat after being fired from his city job for having employees do private landscaping work on taxpayer time. In 2012, after the feds said they caught him on tape taking the bribe, he won the Democratic primary anyway.
In response, his colleagues booted him out of the house. Voters reelected him that November.
Now Smith has at least two strong challengers: Eddie Winters, a police sergeant, and Pamela Reaves-Harris, an attorney. So I thought I’d find out how he’s planning to hold on to the seat again.
After some serious investigative work, I finally caught a glimpse of Smith—though it was only on his website. “Maintaining an open line of communication with my constituents is my top priority as a legislator,” the site proclaimed.
Great! I was sure he’d be happy to hear from reporters too—even if he hasn’t had the chance to return Ben Joravsky’s call from a year and a half ago just yet.
But when I called the number listed for his Chicago office, I was greeted by a strange automated message asking me to please enter a mailbox code. Say what? Not knowing what else to do, I typed in “Samantha,” the name of my first cat. Not surprisingly, this didn’t get me through to Representative Smith.
I figured I’d reach out to his Springfield office instead. Alas, that number was disconnected altogether.
Still, this being a digital age, I was encouraged to see a Yahoo e-mail address listed on Smith’s website. I sent a short note explaining that I was trying to reach the representative, and the next day I received a polite response asking me to send campaign inquiries to an address for Smith’s political office.
I did. Maybe they haven’t checked their inbox yet.
After waiting out the weekend, I thought I’d try his district office one last time. Amazingly, a human being answered. Representative Smith was not around, she said. But she passed on a number for his campaign.
It turned out to be a cell phone with a 309 area code, which is based in western Illinois, and my call went straight to an automatic voice-mail system. I suspect my message ended up in about the same place as George Clooney’s character in Gravity.
I guess you could say that Smith has remained above the fray in the increasingly nasty primary campaign. The area’s leading politicians have divided their support between his top challengers: Second Ward alderman Robert Fioretti and secretary of state Jesse White are supporting Winters while 28th Ward alderman Jason Ervin and his predecessor and mentor Ed Smith back Reaves-Harris. The two sides have wasted few opportunities to exchange blows.
That’s good news for Rep Smith, as I’m sure he’d be happy to tell us all if he had a minute to spare.