Congressman Danny Davis, whose sprawling 7th District includes Oak Park and River Forest, is considering running for president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, a position that has been a lighting rod of controversy during the reign of incumbent President Todd Stroger.
“I’ve had a great time in Congress, especially the last few years, with major bills being passed, money being approved, influence being exercised, helping to write reforms. Right now all of that is well and good. I enjoy it,” Davis said in a recent interview. “But I think there is another responsibility calling.”
Davis said polling authorized by his office had him beating Forrest Claypool, the county board commissioner widely seen as a front runner before he dropped out of the race in June. The congressman has formed an exploratory committee for his possible candidacy.
A former Chicago alderman and two-time member of the county board, Davis had previously expressed interest in the president’s seat when John Stroger, the deceased former head of the county and Todd Stroger’s father, took ill in 2006.
Since the younger Stroger succeeded his father, the board has been known for its fractious politics and heated debates, many centering on the 1-percent sales tax increase Stroger and his supporters said was needed to preserve the health care system used by Cook County’s medically indigent.
Davis declined twice to state whether the board made the right decision on the sales tax increase. While acknowledging taxes are a major issue for many voters, Davis said there is just as much concern with how tax dollars ultimately are used.
“I want make sure the Cook County taxpayer gets the greatest return on their investment, which is their tax dollar,” he said. “You want to get the biggest bang for the buck.”
Speaking in generalities, Davis said his priorities would include ensuring high-quality health care for the poor, working with Chief Judge Tim Evans to improve the judicial system and helping those leaving Cook County jail transition back to more productive lives.
All those systems need work: “I simply believe that improvement is the order of the day. I’ve never seen anybody do anything as well as it could be done,” he said.
And better operations, according to Davis, could close the gap between the city and suburban Cook County. No one wants to deny inner-city residents the opportunity to get medical care, he said.
With the Democratic Party primary for the board president position scheduled for Feb. 2, 2010, a variety of area elected officials are starting to declare their intentions regarding the board president’s race.
Chicago Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th) is in, and recently debuted a sophisticated new Web site for her campaign. Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown has announced her candidacy. Former Chicago schools’ boss Paul Vallas will not run. Other candidates sometimes floated in the press include Sheriff Tom Dart and Assessor Jim Houlihan.
Davis commended the field of candidates but maintained his experience with public policy put him at the front of the increasingly crowded pack.
“I’ve done it much more than any of them. I’ve done it more effectively than any of them,” he said. “None of them have the kind of experience that I have.”