Illinois’s 7th Congressional District runs from the Near North Side and downtown Chicago to the South Side of the city, before meandering into the western suburbs—one of the most convoluted instances of gerrymandering in the country. More than eighty-five percent of its residents are registered Democrats; some seventy percent are people of color; and it represents a significant contingent of people who are working class. It has extraordinary income gaps and wealth disparities.
The answers that 7th District incumbent Danny Davis has given to tackle the existing problems in 7th District in his next term include providing jobs above minimum wage, improving healthcare, and working on environmental quality and education. Having served as the representative of the district for over twenty years, he is confident his long tenure gives him the political wherewithal to achieve these goals.
Davis, now in his twelfth term, was first elected to Congress in 1996. Before that, he was the 29th Ward alderman for eleven years, and served on the Cook County Board of Commissioners for two consecutive terms. In the 116th Congress, Davis prides himself on being “an articulate voice for his constituents” and “an effective legislator able to move major bills to passage.” In an interview with the Sun-Times editorial board, Davis said he has been a longtime proponent of a Green New Deal. Fighting climate change, he said, is a necessary part of a larger, national mobilization effort that would also facilitate other projects, including construction of green technologies and plants, providing accessible higher education and high-quality health care, and providing affordable housing for all. He also said he has been a longtime supporter of Medicare for All.
Additionally, Davis says he is dedicated to implementing fair, equal and progressive taxes, protecting social security, protecting women’s rights to choose, along with focusing on job creation, combating poverty, and reforming the criminal justice system. Last month, Davis announced tax breaks for students and families and cosponsored the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which protects workers’ rights to join a union. During his current term, he has cosponsored gun control legislation, and introduced a bill to tax gun sales to fund gun violence research.
This past September, Davis announced his bid for reelection. His spokesman, Ira Cohen, frames Davis’s campaign as an ongoing effort to fight for progressive causes and push progressive legislation. In an interview with the Sun-Times, Davis expressed his commitment to fixing the district’s unsolved problems, and said he was one of the first Democrats to call for Trump to be impeached.
According to a Politico newsletter, the veteran congressman has been criticized for not doing enough as the chair of the Worker and Family Support Subcommittee, a subgroup of the House Ways and Means Committee that creates bills concerning public services such as child and family support.
In 2020, Davis faces three young challengers: thirty-seven-year-old Oak Park high school teacher and activist Anthony Clark, twenty-eight-year-old Austin healthcare advocate Kina Collins, and thirty-two-year-old Streeterville attorney Kristine Schanbacher.
“I thank Danny Davis for his service, but it is impossible to say that he cares about the people in our district,” Anthony Clark told the Weekly. “He sits back and places Party first. There is divestment in communities in which young individuals are not voting. He particularly depends upon the older vote and the church vote.”
Clark pointed out that the major difference between Davis and him is that as an Oak Park native, Clark understands the systemic issues of the community and is therefore able to advocate for policies that truly target the minority populations in this District. “He does not talk with people on the West Side,” Clark said. In 2018, Clark ran against Davis in Democratic Primary, where Davis won by a nearly forty-point margin. Now, Clark is running again.
Top priorities for Clark include ending gun and police violence, reforming the criminal justice system, improving housing and advocating for Medicare for All, as well as ending the war on drugs and legalizing cannabis. Clark also wants to abolish ICE; he pointed out that Davis recently voted for Trump’s budget that allocated $9 billion to ICE, and $20 billion to border protection.
Clark is a candidate who focuses on racial and income injustice, and proposes an integrative agenda based on that. “Every policy needs a reparations lens,” he said. “So no matter what policy we’re pushing, whether it be an environmental policy, an employment policy, an infrastructure policy, or a criminal justice policy, we need to look at it from a reparations lens and identify how much money needs to be allotted to the Black community.” Clark sees these issues as intertwined, rather than as separate concerns.
Clark notes that Davis only supports the legalization of cannabis at the state level. Although cannabis is legal in Illinois, “we’re still seeing under-representation of Black shop owners and Black growers within our community,” said Clark. “The individuals who benefited and profited when [cannabis] was prohibited are still benefiting when it’s legal.”
Moreover, Clark says he and Davis have different views on corporate America. Contrary to Davis, Clark does not accept any donations from corporate donors and says he is the candidate “bold enough to promise to tax the rich”. Last year, Davis’s top contributor was McDonald’s, but his top contributing sector was labor unions, which were followed closely by finance, insurance, and real estate.
Kina Collins also cites Davis’s corporate donors as her main impetus for running against him. “When I found out that Congressman Davis was taking hundreds of thousands of dollars of corporate money from pharmaceutical companies and private insurance companies, I decided that I was organizing already, building coalitions, and writing policy, and that I was going to mount a primary challenge against him,” Collins told the Weekly. Before announcing her bid for office, Collins had been a longtime organizer advocating for affordable healthcare, and was also a national organizer for Physicians for a National Health Program, an organization that advocates for Medicare for All.
Coming from a pro-union, working-class family in Austin and pledging to stay in Austin even after she wins the race, Collins says she prides herself in being the only candidate who lives in a marginalized community and deals with everyday economic struggles of this population.
Gun-violence prevention is a high priority in Collins’s agenda. At Louisiana State University, she started to work with Generation Progress, an initiative that brings young people together to address gun violence. Upon returning to Chicago, she started Chicago Neighborhood Alliance to address everyday violence in the city’s neighborhoods. In Congress, Collins hopes to push for investments in trauma-informed education, mental health services and funding for gun violence solution research.
Collins’s platform includes healthcare and criminal justice reform. IL-07 has the largest life-expectancy gap in the country, “and healthcare is essentially the core of everything,” said Collins. She has advocated for House Bill 40, which provides state health insurance and Medicaid coverage for women’s reproductive health care.
Collins says she hopes to “unlock federal resources” to tackle the life-expectancy gap, with solutions such as emergency water filtration systems. “The incumbent has failed to address health concerns of his constituents,” she said in a survey with the Chicago Tribune.
“I see myself as an independent reformer,” Collins told the Weekly. “The party is flowing more toward the working class. I could give you a laundry list of ways that the Republican and Democratic parties have forsaken urban communities in America.” She distinguishes herself from her opponents who live in Streeterville and Oak Park, which are economically and demographically vastly different neighborhoods from Austin.
Kristine Schanbacher, another 7th District challenger, hails from Streeterville and says she believes that connections between different groups in a diverse district such as IL-07 could indeed make a difference. “The community is not being actively brought together, so that those jobs are not being connected with the job providers,” Schanbacher said in an interview with the Weekly. “First and foremost is making sure that we have economic opportunities for all.”
Schanbacher is a graduate from Northwestern University and a corporate attorney with Dentons. During her time as a lawyer, she says she actively engaged in pro bono work such as fighting for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Schanbacher, who serves on the board of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, says reducing hunger is her first priority. She added that she supports increasing federal investment in SNAP to solve the problem of food insecurity in the district. She supports funding for school meal programs, and investments in urban farming initiatives in order to eliminate food deserts and hunger.
Schanbacher also supports ending the war on drugs, and combating the prison industrial complex. “Approximately 2.3 million people are nonviolent drug offenders, and there are six times more black and brown men being put in prison than white men,” she said. “The war on drugs is a failure. We need to focus on uplifting people and not putting people down for crimes of poverty.” In her criminal justice reform agenda, she calls for federal funding for training in law enforcement, promoting rehabilitative programs, reducing the militarization of police and federally legalizing marijuana,
Schanbacher believes that her experience as an attorney is the reason why she would be able to represent people from diverse economic backgrounds. In the courtroom, she says she fought for a transgender woman who fled violence in Mexico. She wrote a brief arguing that a Wisconsin law requiring abortion doctors to have hospital-admitting privileges was unconstitutional, which she says kept clinics open. She also managed to reduce the sentence for a juvenile who was unconstitutionally sentenced to life in prison.
“I have represented people of different colors, special orientations, people in the far end of wealth inequality, and you have to be able to bring them all in a room,” Schanbacher said.
“The other candidates and the congressman are not connecting this entire district, and we are. We are truly bringing together the entirety of this district.”
Yiwen Lu is a politics reporter for the Weekly. She last profiled Anthony Clark.