Smith escapes penalty in 43rd despite election rule-breaking

1 Mar

By Zoe Barker and Jennifer Schanz

In a city that’s made a name for itself out of back alley politicians and shady campaigning, accusations of foul play before an election could be a good way to flounder, but apparently not for Michele Smith.

The 43rd Ward Committeewoman and Chicago Aldermanic candidate received 38 percent of votes Feb. 22, leaving her and Tim Egan, who received 29 percent, to face each other in a runoff in April. An impressive majority one might say, given Smith ran against nine other candidates.

Also impressive is this fact: Friends of Michele Smith faced the State Board of Elections in light of accusations made that the campaign broke election law by taking three names from Vi Daley’s D-2 records in an attempt to solicit support.

On Feb. 23, a day after the election, the Illinois State Board of Elections found the Friends of Michele Smith guilty, but no fines were given and she remained on the ballot. The case concluded that it was an outside consultant on Smith’s campaign using Daley’s disclosure document to solicit to three donors on the retiring alderman’s list.

According to Barb Guttmann, Friends of Vi Daley treasurer who filed the complaint against Friends of Michele Smith, it is typical for the board to be lenient with a first-time offense. “It was basically a slap on the wrist,” Guttmann said. “But if she gets caught again, she will be fined heavily.”

Guttmann said she filed the complaint to reassure Daley’s donors that their information had not been given out and that the Friends of Vi Daley had nothing to do with the solicitations. Guttmann also believes that Michele Smith herself would never do anything purposefully against the law, since she is a former prosecutor. Friends of Michele Smith pleaded guilty to the charges, stating that they were “ready to take [their] medicine.”

Shortly after the hearing, Smith’s campaign manager Rick Bohn seemed confident the allegations would fizzle and voters would not be phased. Though the matter wasn’t solved until after the election, Smith’s reputation seemed intact at the polls.

“It doesn’t concern me, said 43rd Ward voter Allen Winters. “She is a serious prosecutor. It would be a silly, dumb thing to do if she were involved in it, for such a small payoff, given the centerpiece of her definition… looks like a pretty small issue to me. To take what is the centerpiece of her reputation and to have three names be enough to derail that, I think is unlikely.”

“I would say whatever that issue is, I would have to see evidence that Michele Smith herself was involved in that because her background and her profile is someone who has made a greater issue of honesty, going after corruption, going after all malfeasance and so on… that’s been the number one thing in her campaign.”

Guttmann said she was not surprised with the outcome, “It was a no-win situation. We’re just happy that the public is now aware of her campaign tactics,” she said.

Guttmann reiterated that the reason she filed the complaint in the first place was so Vi Daley’s donors knew their names had not been given out. “Our most important concern was that our donors were protected. We don’t want them to think for even a moment that we gave away the list or that we sold their names.”

She was “not surprised” that Smith is in the runoff. “She has great name recognition in the area from the last election and also from being committeewoman,” she added.

Next stop, runoff.

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