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Expert: Illinois Politics Cleaner Despite Ongoing Convictions

Expert: Illinois Politics Cleaner Despite Ongoing Convictions

Photo: Associated Press/Seth Perlman

Despite the bribery conviction of State Rep. Derrick Smith (D-Chicago), a reformer says Illinois politics is getting cleaner.

It’s a slow process, says Andy Shaw, president of the Better Government Association, but he says we’re at the point where a politician taking bribes is shocking and abnormal, and no longer business as usual.

“It takes a long time to un-do such a rotten, corrupt system, but I think that’s under way, and so yes, Derrick Smith is another tragedy, but I think that there are fewer Derrick Smiths today than ever before, and that’s a sign of progress,” he said.

Smith was convicted Tuesday in federal court in Chicago of bribery and extortion for agreeing to take a $7,000 bribe from a day care operator in exchange for a letter of support for a $50,000 state grant. The day care operation turned out to be an FBI sting.

Smith, who was kicked out of the General Assembly when he was indicted in 2012, was elected to return to his seat later that year. Now, upon conviction, he gets booted out again, though his time was short anyway since he lost the Democratic primary in March.

Shaw says the pressure for politicians to behave better is coming from prosecutors, editorial writers and groups like his, but he says the real responsibility lies with voters to elect a better caliber of person to office.

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