Picking a U.S. congressman for Oak Park and River Forest in the March 20 Democratic primary comes down to a choice between sticking with the longtime incumbent or shifting gears in favor of a relative newcomer.
River Forest resident Jacques Conway, 49, a former Oak Park police officer and high school board member, is making his first run at a national office. He's hoping to unseat Austin resident Danny Davis, 70, who has held the post since 1997.
In a recent endorsement interview, Conway admitted that he'd likely vote similarly to Davis on many issues before Congress. The difference, he said, is the 20-year age gap between the two candidates, and his belief that he'll bring more energy to the post.
Conway knocked Davis for his low attendance record in the House of Representatives and said he'll bring a different "flavor to the Kool-Aid."
"Politically we're not that far at all, and most Democrats aren't," he said. "Voting-wise, there won't be a difference, but energy-wise and purpose-wise and want-to-do-it-wise, I think that I could make a splash."
Conway is focusing his campaign on education reform, along with crime and development in the district, which stretches west to Hillside and all the way east to Lake Michigan. He currently works as head of Teamwork Englewood, a South Side nonprofit he helped found, which focuses on disadvantaged children.
"Education is primarily the big push. Our state and our country, we're just lagging behind so much in our educational system. There's such a disparity. When I leave River Forest and Oak Park and go to Englewood, it brings tears to my eyes to see the disparity in this country in this time."
He also previously worked at Park National Bank in Oak Park, before it was closed by federal regulators, and is pastor of Neighborhood United Methodist Church in Maywood.
Davis said he wanted to run for another term as he's having "a lot of fun" and doing meaningful work in Congress. Since 2000, he said, some $20 billion has been sent back to the 7th Congressional District from Washington, for everything from infrastructure projects, to health care and hospitals. He doesn't perceive that money to be a "waste," and said he's a fan of earmarks.
"I'm not of the opinion that there is nearly the waste and inefficiency in government now that there used to be and that people kind of cry about," Davis said. "It would seem that every entity trying to get resources from the federal government swears to God that they don't have enough money to operate."
Davis has recently thrown his name out for consideration for other positions, including mayor of Chicago and Cook County board president. But he said those flirtations weren't about being bored with Congress. Rather, he wanted to be able to exert his influence on the selection of the eventual candidate.
"My purpose in politics is to develop power and influence, I don't make any bones about that," Davis said, "because if you're impotent, then you can't move nothing. You can't make things happen. You can't get things done. You're just someplace, and I've never wanted to be just someplace."
Davis said he's proud of his service thus far in Congress, including sponsoring a bill to help ex-convicts get a second chance in life and his successfully pushing for government-funded home visitations for "at-risk" families, as part of recent health care reform. That program awarded some $124 million in grants in 2011 for families to receive home visits from nurses and social workers, hoping to improve everything from health to school readiness.
The congressman said his work feels unfinished, including his efforts to pass an anti-bullying bill that he sponsored, requiring states to track data on the prevalence of bullying and harassment at schools.
Conway faces a tall test, as he's considered a heavy underdog. Davis has raised some $148,885 in this election cycle, and his campaign has $263,845 in cash on hand, according to the Federal Election Commission. Some of his top contributors include the American Postal Workers Union, Laborers International Union of North America and Planned Parenthood, among many others.
The commission lists no fundraising total for Conway, though the River Forester said last month that he had raised a few thousand dollars.
Answer Book 2018
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