The 7th Congressional District covers a wide and diverse area. It includes parts of the South Side such as West Englewood and Armour Square; the Loop; much of the West Side; and some western suburbs. The incumbent in the race, Danny Davis, has represented the district for twenty-eight years, winning his first election in 1996 and every re-election since. In this year’s primary, Davis has four challengers: Kina Collins, who has run for the seat twice before; Melissa Conyears-Ervin, Chicago’s city treasurer; Nihkil Bhatia, an educator and former principal; and Kouri Marshall, a former deputy director in Governor J.B. Pritzker’s administration.

Collins, who won 46 percent of the primary vote in 2022, approaches the race politically to the left of Davis and has highlighted her experience as a gun violence activist and organizer. Entering the race for the first time, Conyears-Ervin, who has been Chicago’s city treasurer since 2019, has more moderate views and has said her business experience is a key aspect of her candidacy. Her husband, Jason Ervin, is alderman of the 28th Ward, which overlaps with the 7th District. Conyears-Ervin is in the midst of an ethics scandal after it was revealed last year that she had fired two aides when they complained about Conyears-Ervin using public funds for private purposes, such as planning her daughter’s birthday party and hiring an employee as a bodyguard. Conyears-Ervin has said the allegations misrepresent what happened.

The Weekly sent out a questionnaire to all the candidates. Only Nikhil Bhatia and Melissa Conyears-Ervin responded to the questionnaire by press time, and their answers are included below, with additional context about other candidates where possible.

These responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

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Describe yourself and why you’re running for this office.

Conyears-Ervin: I want to help people who need it most and heal our communities from generations of historical segregation. My journey, influenced by my resilient mother, drives me to empower young mothers for better futures and ensure access to quality education. I aspire to provide working individuals with opportunities for good-paying jobs, enabling them to secure homes and generational wealth. Moreover, I advocate for infrastructure reforms to combat climate change and foster new job creation—tasks uniquely suited for federal government action. All of these things are work that the federal government uniquely can accomplish.

Bhatia: I am running because our neighborhoods and kids are in crisis and Washington, D.C., isn’t doing enough to help them. As a South Side teacher, I see the ways gun violence, economic disinvestment, and the migrant crisis affect our communities every day. I can bring a fresh perspective, that of a teacher and father of young children, to the decision table in D.C. We need to change our policy approach; we need to change the people we send to Washington, and change can’t wait.

Who are you accountable to?

Conyears-Ervin: I am accountable to the voters and the communities I serve who rely on me to advocate for and protect them as an elected official. Maintaining this obligation is essential for building trust and achieving efficient governance. As a congresswoman, I will remain committed to listening and responding to my constituents’ concerns, resolving them in a timely manner that ensures the fulfillment of the office and the well-being of the constituents.

Bhatia: As a teacher, I am accountable every day to the kids who come into my classroom and the parents that entrust me with teaching their children. As a father, I’m accountable to my children and my wife. As a congressman, I will be accountable to the constituents in my district. I have accepted no corporate money, and I am beholden to no special interests. My only concern is serving the people.

What do you see as the top issues faced by residents of the 7th district?

Conyears-Ervin: Investment in our neighborhood is the most pressing problem for the West Side and South Side residents of the 7th District. This district has some of the wealthiest and poorest residents in Illinois, and I believe strongly that both [groups] agree we do not have enough investment from the federal government in people’s lives. I would prioritize new schools, transportation infrastructure, clean energy transformation, and human infrastructure such as childcare and long-term health care. There has been some good progress on several of these measures in the past term of President Biden, but what the 7th District needs more than anything else is someone who is going to work hard every day to accomplish these difficult goals. That is a fundamental difference between me and my opponent.

Bhatia: I think the issues are—and not necessarily in this order—one, public safety: every person deserves to be safe and know their kids will be safe when they leave home in the morning. Two, economic opportunity: we need to revitalize under-resourced neighborhoods without pushing out the residents. Three, migration: we need sensible solutions to the migrant crisis. Four, education: we need to provide better, more affordable pre-K-to-college educational [opportunities] for our young people. Five, government: we need to change the way we elect people so that they are responsive to the needs of the people and not themselves.

Editor’s Note: In an interview in 2022, Collins said the top issues facing the district were gun violence, public safety, and health care, noted the district’s large life expectancy gap, and called attention to gun violence as a public health issue.

How do you plan to address these issues?

Conyears-Ervin: People have been battling high costs coming out of the pandemic for the past few years and we have to address the strain that this is putting on families. I want to lower costs for groceries, gas, housing, and healthcare, but I also want to take advantage of the transformation we are undergoing to prepare our community for the future. With this said, I will also ensure that everyone has access to affordable, quality education. I was extremely fortunate to have gone to college, but not everyone is given that same opportunity. Education is not a luxury—it is a basic human right that should be equally accessible to all. During my time as city treasurer, I’ve divested Chicago’s funds from fossil fuel companies and I want to push hard into renewable energy to lower utility bills for working families. Finally, I want safe and secure neighborhoods with a strong presence of public safety officials who engage in thoughtful, constitutional policing.

Bhatia:  Public Safety: We need comprehensive gun control legislation passed, from universal background checks on gun purchases to banning assault weapons. I believe in more funding for police departments to specifically solve violent crime cases. I also think we need to address the root causes of violence by treating mental health issues and bringing economic development to all of our communities.

Economic Opportunity: I will work with the Urban Development office to get more grants and loans into the hands of black-owned businesses. Instead of hoping for big companies like Whole Foods to bring jobs, we need to invest in the people that are rooted within the communities.

Migration: We need to limit the grounds for asylum to slow down the flow of migrants into the country. I will also push for federal dollars for the migrants Chicago is housing, to ensure we don’t divert our resources away from under-served communities within the district.

Education: I support Universal pre-K and making college more affordable by doubling Pell Grants. We also need to increase teacher pay in hard-to-fill positions, like math, science, and special education to attract and retain our best teachers.

Government: I am a firm believer in term limits. As our former mayor said, this is “the job of a lifetime, not for a lifetime.” I also recommend we end gerrymandering, abolish the Electoral College, implement ranked-choice voting, and ban outside money from entering politics.

What sets you apart from the other candidates?

Conyears-Ervin: During the last four years as city treasurer, in addition to my time as a state representative, I’ve delivered for my constituents and earned a reputation as someone who reaches across the aisle to get things done for working families. Our current representative is not equipped to address the challenges ahead, and our residents believe Washington isn’t working on their behalf. We need someone to work as hard as they do every day to get things done, and I believe I’m the right person to get that work done on their behalf.

Bhatia: I am not a career politician. I am the only candidate who has had a recent career outside of politics. I have spent fifteen years in the classroom, including five as a principal. I have always chosen to teach Black and brown students in neighborhoods like Grand Crossing. I have dedicated my life to public service. I can offer the fresh perspective of a teacher who knows what our students and their parents need, as well as the perspective of a father.

Do you support a cease-fire in the war on Gaza?

Conyears-Ervin: I have visited Israel and seen firsthand the difficulty this conflict brings to ordinary people on both sides. I can only imagine the pain and suffering the families of the hostages, those murdered by Hamas, and the people of Israel feel, while also empathizing with the innocent Palestinians who have become casualties due to Hamas’s continued insistence on committing war crimes that place civilians in harm’s way. We have to make sure aid gets to the Palestinian people, and I would support further humanitarian pauses to do so. But there was a cease-fire before October 7, and Hamas broke it. They have to be removed so that we can get back on track to a two-state solution.

Bhatia: I absolutely support a cease-fire in exchange for the remaining hostages. I support Israel’s right to exist, but I do not support their campaign to bomb hospitals, schools, and apartment buildings. So far, 30,000 people have died in Gaza. I am proud to say Black Lives Matter. But surely, the lives of Palestinian kids should matter too.

Editor’s Note: Davis has said he supports a cease-fire, humanitarian aid, and a two-state solution. He has come under fire from Collins, who has called for a cease-fire and the release of all hostages and pointed out that Davis did not vote for the cease-fire resolution co-sponsored by Representative Cori Bush in October.

If elected, how will you use your office to aid the recent arrivals in Chicago and surrounding suburbs?

Conyears-Ervin: This has tremendous implications for public safety, communities dedicated to helping those who need it most, and our local governments. Congress has failed to fix our broken immigration system for decades because Republicans have repeatedly blocked all reforms. America is a country founded by immigrants and has succeeded because of the great strength of our diversity. We have to be a country that welcomes those who want to move, work, and raise their families here, and we must have a system to handle this. To deal with the immediate crisis, we need funding from the federal government to provide temporary shelter and allow those waiting for their cases the opportunity to earn a living legally.

Bhatia: We need federal help to deal with the migrant crisis. Right now, Chicago has received no money from Washington to help deal with the influx of migrants. This can not be Chicago’s problem to deal with alone. Secondly, we need to control our southern border to ensure the crisis does not worsen. We should address the migrants humanely, but we need to first ensure that neighborhoods like Englewood and Woodlawn have the resources they need.

What is your favorite thing about the South Side?

Conyears-Ervin: My favorite thing about the South Side is its diversity, where individuals of different backgrounds come together to create a sense of community. Growing up on the South Side, I know that neighbors don’t just live side by side; they become like family, creating a strong bond built on mutual respect. Despite variations in culture, South Side residents embrace their diversity as a source of strength and are the heart and soul of Chicago.

Bhatia: The people! I love my neighbors, my students, and their parents. I have met the best, most genuine people in the world here on the South Side. They are not pretentious; they are good, hard-working people who want to make our community a better place. I am the only South Sider in this race, and I am darn proud of that. My wife and I both work on the South Side, live on the South Side, and send our kids to school on the South Side. It is home. Also, from Bridgeport to Bronzeville to Grand Crossing—you will find some of the best restaurants in the city on the South Side!

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Adam Przybyl is the Weekly’s managing editor.

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