When Jeff Smith threw his hat into the ring for the U.S. congressional seat vacated by Dick Gephardt in 2004, many considered the neophyte pol to be a naive, earnest twerp with no chance of surviving the jaws of politics, let alone giving rival Russ Carnahan a run for his money. Smith did lose that race, but not by the wide margin anyone had expected. Emboldened, he went on to win a seat in the state Senate in 2006. He became known as the city's strongest advocate on tough issues such as education, and he earned bipartisan respect for reaching across the aisle. Gradually Smith's critics began to see that such an unlikely prospect — a five-foot-two basketball nut — had the good sense and the mettle to govern with the big boys. By the summer of 2009, he was certainly considered a possible candidate for higher office. If only. On August 25 Smith pleaded guilty to two federal felonies for covering up an election-regulations violation dating back to the '04 congressional race. The feds have released information showing he misled federal investigators repeatedly and sought to make a dead man — one of his campaign workers — the fall guy. Smith faces prison time for his misdeeds, though surely the worst punishment has to come from knowing how many people he let down.
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