Illinois voters say 'no' to candidates who were convicted, indicted

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 19, 2014 5:22 PM

By Mary Wisniewski

(Reuters) - Chicago may have a long and colorful history of political corruption, but voters will only take so much.

In Tuesday's Democratic primary, a Chicago candidate who served a prison term for bribery and another due to go on trial on similar charges this spring both lost their races, despite predictions of local political observers, according to results available Wednesday.

"I am pleasantly surprised; it did look like both were going to win," said Dick Simpson, a former alderman in the nation's third-largest city who teaches political science at University of Illinois at Chicago. "It appears there is a firm red line in Illinois politics and that is convicted felons don't get elected to higher office."

The candidates who lost their races included Isaac "Ike" Carothers, a former Chicago alderman who was sentenced to 28 months for bribery and tax fraud. Carothers lost his bid for Cook County commissioner to attorney Richard Boykin.

State Representative Derrick Smith was expelled by the Illinois House in 2012 after he was charged with taking a $7,000 bribe but then won his seat back that same year. Smith, who has pleaded not guilty, lost the primary to attorney Pamela Reaves-Harris.

A third candidate, state Representative La Shawn K. Ford, who has been charged with bank fraud for alleged actions before he was elected a legislator in 2006, ran unopposed on Tuesday. Ford has pleaded not guilty.

Since Ford's district is heavily Democratic, he is likely to win in November.

In other races Tuesday, multimillionaire Bruce Rauner won the Republican nomination for governor to take on incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn. Republican State Sen. Jim Oberweis won his nomination for Senate and will go up against veteran Democratic U.S. Senator Dick Durbin.


Chicago ranked first in the nation in public corruption over the past three decades and has had 1,531 public corruption convictions since 1976, according to a 2012 analysis of U.S. Department of Justice statistics.

But candidates with criminal backgrounds do not have a strong track record of winning in the city.

"Being a convicted felon or being under indictment is not good brochure material," said Paul Green, political science professor at Roosevelt University.

Last year, former U.S. Representative Mel Reynolds, who had been convicted of having sex with an underage campaign worker, lost a bid for the U.S. House seat of Jesse Jackson Jr., who had resigned before pleading guilty to fraud charges.

Carothers' candidacy nevertheless caused enough concern that both Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle made a joint appearance asking voters to support an alternate candidate, Blake Sercye, who finished second.

Both Smith and Ford had the support of powerful state House Speaker Michael Madigan.

(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; editing by Edith Honan and Cynthia Osterman)