Alderman's girlfriend among finalists to challenge indicted lawmaker
Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, seen here in February, is leading the search committee for a challenger to Rep. Derrick Smith. (Chris Sweda / February 1, 2012)
Democratic committeemen will reconvene Wednesday to make their pick, who will be tasked with running a third-party campaign against Smith in the Nov. 6 election. The finalists are attorney Lance Tyson, Chicago Police Officer Eddie Winters and Melissa Conyears, a manager at Allstate Insurance.
Smith won the Democratic primary just days after his March arrest on a federal bribery charge as party leaders remained largely silent. Since then, Smith has ignored repeated calls to drop out and allow a replacement to take his spot on the ballot. That led Democratic leaders to form the 10th District Unity Party to find an opponent.
Nine candidates did public interviews and filled out lengthy questionnaires asking about financial history, illegal drug use, arrests and any legal action taken against them.
The process was led by Secretary of State Jesse White, who had previously backed Smith when he was appointed to the open seat last year. White acknowledged there were “blunders” in selecting Smith, and said he wanted an open process “to make sure we don’t go down that same road again.”
But several committee members questioned the integrity of the process, saying Ervin, who sits on the selection panel, admitted during private deliberations that Conyears was his girlfriend. The relationship was not disclosed during the public portion of the meeting.
“It raises concerns because we wanted a full vetting process,” said Ald. Bob Fioretti, 2nd, who is supporting Winters.
Ervin did not return calls requesting comment about his relationship with Conyears, who also volunteers for Ervin’s 28th Ward Democratic Organization. Conyears refused to say if she was in a relationship with Ervin, saying she didn’t want anything to “discount her credentials.”
“As far as transparency, I did provide all of the information that was requested of me,” Conyears said. “I do not think that anyone or anything should diminish all the hard work that I have done to get where I am.”
White said Ervin informed the committee about the relationship as members considered the candidates. White said while the revelation was troubling, Conyears was selected as a finalist because she spoke knowledgeably about Springfield’s budget problems and how she would fix them.
Still, White said the relationship is something that needs to be vetted, given the scandal surrounding Smith.
“I think it’s a good likelihood that she would have prevailed if this situation did not occur, but we want to make sure this process is transparent,” White said.