Lance Tyson, Stroger's ex-chief of staff, discusses the issues as 3rd-party challenger to indicted Rep. Smith

Lance Tyson, Stroger's ex-chief of staff, discusses the issues as 3rd-party challenger to indicted Rep. Smith
Lance Tyson thanks committeemen on Wednesday, after they slated him to run as a third-party candidate in the 10th Representative District race. Photo by Nick Moroni

On Wednesday, nine Chicago Democratic committeemen huddled in the backroom of a West Side union hall and voted to pick Lance Tyson as a third-party candidate to challenge indicted 10th District state Rep. Derrick Smith.

Tyson, an attorney, will run for the 10th District Unity Party, which the committeemen created just for this election so someone could challenge Smith. 

Wednesday's hearing also featured two other candidates who were vying to be slated: Eddie Winters and Melissa Conyears. Winters ran for the seat twice, in 2008 and 2010, but lost. Conyears belongs to the same political organization as 28th Ward Alderman and Committeeman Jason Ervin, who was a voting member of the panel, and is also his girlfriend.  

Smith was indicted for taking a $7,000 bribe and he's facing House expulsion hearings.

Long story short: his seat's vulnerable, and he refuses to step down, so his old pals in the Democratic party have little use for him now. That said, the plan is to get someone in there who, regardless of labels, will toe the party line.

Enter Tyson, a well-versed, wonky public finance attorney who has worked as chief of staff for ex-Cook County President Todd Stroger and as legislative counsel to former Mayor Richard M. Daley. He gave a wide-ranging interview with The Chicago Reporter earlier this week. 

Why are you running?

Right now there's only one individual in the race. I wanted to make sure that I provided the constituents with an opportunity to have a representative they deserve. I truly believe that I'm the most qualified candidate, and it's also a passion I have: the ability to be able to serve others really drives me.

What are you going to do on day one, if you get to Springfield?

On day one, I'll draft legislation that calls for an ex-offender tax credit, and which codifies what charity care means for non-profit hospitals.

Generally speaking, when you talk to the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, and ask why haven't you done more for the ex-offender population, what they say is it's cost-prohibitive. Because if I'm a business owner, as they would argue, I'm exposed to greater risk by having an ex-felon working for me. At minimum my insurance exposure would increase. To address that issue, what I would propose is to put forth legislation that calls for an income-tax credit for businesses that hire ex-offenders.

When I was working at the county, the first time I went to Stroger Hospital, I was like, wow. I didn't realize all that the hospital does for the uninsured. So I began to think, what about other nonprofit hospitals out there? What role are they playing in helping to [relieve] the amount of [patients] at the county hospital and therefore lowering the tax burden? For a nonprofit hospital to keep its status it would need to give a certain amount of charity care. But some federal regulations were pulled back. So now you can donate books to satisfy whatever you have to adhere to, and claim you're a nonprofit. A hospital might get a huge abatement because they’re a nonprofit, but they’re shipping the uninsured to Cook County Hospital. I'd put forth legislation that codifies what charity care means, and requires providing a certain amount of service to the uninsured in order to receive that status.

What is/are the most pressing issue(s) facing the state?

Job creation, or lack thereof. What I’d like to do is use the existing public entities, like the finance authority, to stimulate jobs. A lot of different firms have put a lot of  private dollars into different public projects.  What I would want to do is make sure that the constitutents get some opportunity to get employed through those projects.

At the slating hearing you mentioned having "connections" and plenty of support from labor groups. Which unions are backing you? Can you be more specific about your "connections"?

I got a whole lot of advice from committeemen, from state reps, but, part of my job in this race, it’s not going to be about them — labor or any of those relationships.

How much money will you put into your campaign?*

I’m very confident that I'll be able to tap whatever resources I have personally, and to leverage the relevant relationships to get me to where I want to go. I'm not going to quote a number right now.

At the slating hearing, Tyson said his campaign budget would be about $275,000. He didn't say how much of his own money he would put into the race.

You could use the corruption charges Derrick Smith faces as an issue in this race. Will you?

I’m committed to walking every precinct, to going to CAPS meetings, to block clubs. I want people to understand why it’s important to have a good state rep as opposed to being focused on a trial. And I believe in due process. I thoroughly understand it. You know, I don’t really know how that’s [Smith trial] really relevant.

How long were you chief of staff to Cook County Board President Todd Stroger? And why did you leave?

A year and a half. I came in when he was sworn in [in 2006] and I left because I really wanted to continue my legal practice, and because I was done dealing with the issues.

How would grade Stroger's performance while you were there?

My interests diverged with the president's but I'm not going to critique Todd Stroger, that's for you guys to do. I'm from Des Moines. To get the chance to run a government that's larger than my home state, I was honored that he selected me, that's pretty much all I have to say.

You were slated following yet another alleged act of corruption. Corruption has been omnipresent at the state, county and city levels for a long, long time. Realistically, what, if anything, can be done to tackle the issue?

Corruption is a matter of a man’s character. Let’s be honest. We get the government we deserve. And this election, we had only 17 percent voter turn out.

My father, as a black American, there were certain states he could not vote in. Now we got only 17 percent turnout? I think participation is incredibly important. Everybody has a duty. Even if stepping up means voting. But we also need to provide a choice for folks, or we're going to get what we live in.

Talk a little about your personal history and education

I'm from Des Moines. I went to Lake Forest College, where I started as quarterback for a while. I graduated with honors. My thesis was on the principles of equality. I attended the University of Iowa College of Law, where I was part of the Law Review. I took the bar in Illinois, failed it twice and passed the third time. I'm the first Tyson to hold that license, so I'm not going to do anything to jeopardize that. It really guides my choices, so I hold myself to higher ethical standards.

The questions and responses have been edited to fit this post

© Community Renewal Society 2012

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