Before deciding to run for a seat in the statehouse, Tom Swiss knew that getting elected in the 10th District would be no easy task.
And even though his opponent, the incumbent Derrick Smith, was indicted on federal charges of bribery on Tuesday--a week before the March 20 primary--Swiss concedes he’s still a long-shot candidate.
He’s probably right. Smith’s the incumbent and he’s got a whole lot of support from the Democratic establishment--i.e. House Speaker Mike Madigan.
Madigan and his backers have pumped in more than $63,323 into Smith’s campaign, and they’ve expressed no sign that they’ll stop supporting him, regardless of the indictment.
Smith is charged with taking a $7,000 bribe in exchange for writing a letter of support for a daycare center looking for a state grant.
From the get-go, the odds were not in Swiss’ favor.
For one thing, Swiss is the former executive director of the Cook County Republican Party. He is now running as a Democrat, though.
Swiss has said numerous times that he switched parties so he could be more electable.
Despite the party switch, Swiss said he still subscribes to what he claims were once fundamental Republican ideals like “entrepreneurial capitalism.”
“The Republican Party has drifted away from that into some weird Sarah Palin circus,” said Swiss, insisting that the aforementioned style of commerce is “the only thing that has been proven to lift the poor out of grinding poverty.”
Job creation in the district is one of Swiss’ main talking points. He shared some vague ideas for economic growth, but those ideas almost contrast his statement about “lift[ing] the poor out of grinding poverty.”
Swiss said that the “abandoned factories” and “empty rail” on the West Side could be used to bring business to the 10th District, especially because of the availability of “cheap labor” in the area.
“Any wage for a lot of these guys is better than no wage,” said Swiss, of his possible constituents. “Living wage is just political spin. These guys need a wage, then they can worry about increasing it.”
Comments like these portray Swiss as being out of touch with voters in the 10th District, with its high poverty rate.
There’s also the issue of race. Swiss is a white candidate running against Smith, an African American, in a predominantly black district that usually elects black candidates.
Swiss scoffed at the notion that race is a central issue in the contest, insisting that the media, as well as Smith and his backers are responsible for stirring that pot.
But Swiss’ rhetoric and actions on the campaign trail have made it difficult for some to not press the issue.
For instance, Swiss erected a campaign poster in a predominantly black part of the district that only featured his name and the image of a black construction worker. He also told the Chicago Tribune that people in the 10th District were “low-information voters.”
As for the latter remark, Swiss said that “some 25-year-old reporter at the Tribunewho probably just graduated college” spun his comment so it looked as though there was a thin veil of racism. He called that reporter “stupid” for doing so.
“Black people have less opportunities, that’s all I’m saying,” Swiss said. “They have less opportunity for food. They have less opportunity for jobs.”
Swiss’ comments were actually published in the Tribune's editorial section when the paper ran its endorsements for the Illinois House, on March 7. The paper endorsed Smith but has since retracted that endorsement. It is backing no one and referred to March 20 in the 10th District as “inglorious Tuesday.”
Jonathon Goldman, who ran unsuccessfully for the 10th District seat in 2010, said that Swiss has no one to blame but himself because he “manufactured” the issue of race in this contest.
“He puts up a billboard in the white part of the district that has his picture on it, and then in the black part he puts up one that has an African American on it,” Goldman said.
Goldman, who is white, challenged former state Rep. Annazette Collins, who is black, for the statehouse seat two years ago. Following that race, there was considerable public discussion about whether Collins and one of her key supporters, former 28th Ward Alderman Ed Smith used race baiting to scare voters into re-electing Collins.
Shortly before the election, a robocall was sent to 10th District residents. It featured Ed Smith saying Jonathon Goldman “lives in the Bucktown and Lincoln Park areas, but he wants to take over East and West Garfield area.”
“The only reason to mention it is those are white neighborhoods,” and East Garfield Park and West Garfield Park are black neighborhoods, Goldman said at the time. Smith and Collins denied race had anything to do with the robocall.
As for Swiss’ predicament and his, Goldman said “the two circumstances are not at all comparable.”
Swiss’ campaign "is more akin to the old dirty trick of throwing a brick through the window of your campaign offices and then claiming that you’re being attacked,” he said.
But Swiss insists that the media and his opponent have tunnel vision and are only focusing on this issue and his previous alliance with the GOP.
He tried to explain how he’s being misrepresented as someone who is out of touch and disrespectful of the people he could represent--many of whom are black.
Swiss said he has done missionary work in Kenya, he has worked in a state prison, he has also done decades of charity work, and at one point he wanted to be a Catholic priest.
“It’s absolutely true that I did work with the Republicans. But nothing further has been acknowledged. If you just look at that part of my life you’re overlooking 20 years of my work,” he said.
He also said this of Smith: “I don’t want some black guy who’s surrounded by white guys calling me a racist.”
© Community Renewal Society 2012