John Schmidt cut his political teeth during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago when he helped revise the party's rules for selecting its convention delegates. He then returned to a private law practice. In both 1982 and 1986 he served as legal counsel for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Adlai Stevenson, III. Following the 1982 election, when only 1,074 votes separated Stevenson from Gov. Jim Thompson, he unsuccessfully petitioned the Illinois Supreme Court for a state-wide recount. In 1986 Schmidt helped Stevenson create a new party (the Solidarity Party) after the Democrat's Lt. Governor and Secretary of State candidates lost in the primary to Democratic candidates linked to Lyndon LaRouche. Schmidt was also influential in the renovation of Navy Pier, helping turn it into a major tourist destination.