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updated: 3/16/2012 7:09 AM

Madigan won't comment on Democrat's bribery arrest

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Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois' powerful House speaker and Democratic Party chairman will not say whether he thinks a lawmaker charged with bribery should step down just days before the election.

A spokesman said Thursday that Michael Madigan is evaluating the situation surrounding the arrest Tuesday of Rep. Derrick Smith of Chicago, who is facing a former Republican activist in the Democratic primary election next week.

"It's all under review," spokesman Steve Brown said. He declined to elaborate when asked what that meant and said he didn't know whether Madigan would reach any conclusions before voters go to the polls.

Madigan's political committee has provided more than $60,000 in aid to Smith's campaign, the most to a Democrat in any Illinois legislative race.

Federal prosecutors allege Smith accepted a $7,000 cash bribe on Saturday in exchange for his endorsement of a proposed state grant to a day care center. The grant request was fictitious, part of an undercover sting, authorities say.

Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady criticized Madigan again Thursday for his silence, saying Smith should resign. Brady is particularly piqued by a mail piece Madigan produced for his own re-election race boasting of his efforts to "clean up the mess" when former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and other politicians broke the law.

"I guess this time it isn't politically convenient, so Madigan is sitting this one out -- further eroding the public trust and reputation of the state of Illinois," Brady said in a statement.

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn said little more than Madigan about the situation during an appearance in Chicago Wednesday.

"We shouldn't judge anyone until the jury does and the judge renders a sentence, if that's the case," Quinn said.

Madigan and Quinn -- then lieutenant governor -- didn't wait that long in Blagojevich's case after the Democrat's arrest in December 2008 on political corruption charges. Blagojevich was not indicted until April 2009, but Madigan initiated impeachment proceedings and the Senate removed him from office in January that year. Quinn called on Blagojevich to resign or step aside temporarily because he had lost taxpayers' confidence.

Blagojevich began a 14-year federal prison sentence Thursday in Colorado, the second consecutive Illinois governor to get locked up for political crimes.

Smith, who did not return a message left at his office Thursday, was appointed to the $67,836 House post last spring when his predecessor was tabbed for a Senate vacancy. He faces Tom Swiss, former executive director of the Cook County Republican Party.

Swiss shared a copy of a sign Thursday that warns voters not to "be fooled by Republican Tom Swiss." He accused Smith and Madigan of race-baiting because it features photos of both candidates -- Swiss who is white and Smith who is black -- running in the largely black district. He claims Madigan wants to ensure a victory for Smith in the primary and then replace him on the November ballot.

"I expect Illinois politics to be tough, but there's a point where you lose your soul," Swiss said.

The 10th District on Chicago's west side is traditionally a lock for Democrats. Now Swiss is on the ballot as a Democrat and describes himself as politically independent. A victory Tuesday, giving a former Republican activist a seat in Madigan's Democratic caucus, could create complications for the speaker.

Madigan's political committee, Democratic Majority, has provided Smith's campaign with $63,323 worth of in-kind contributions such as salaries for campaign workers, polling and postage, according to state campaign finance records.

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