Contenders and pretenders

In the 7th Congressional District, incumbent Davis keeps his options open

10/28/2009 10:00 PM

By MICAH MAIDENBERG
Editor

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The basement of the Cook County building downtown was transformed Monday into a political spin room. Candidates for a range of elected offices — from the relatively obscure to those that will draw the klieg lights — lined up, supporters in tow, guarding the petitions they’d be turning over to county Board of Elections staffers to ensure their place on the Feb. 2, 2010, ballot.

As the campaigners waited, reporters pinned politicians down for interviews, asking about tactics, issues, the road ahead. Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, running for president of the Cook County board, spoke to a television crew, and Ald. Toni Preckwinkle, a candidate for the same office, worked the room, shaking hands with county commissioners and waving hellos to people she recognized.

Suddenly an elevator opened, and out emerged Congressman Danny Davis (7th) with a small retinue of chanting backers, several of whom sported Davis-for-county-board-presidency shirts pulled over their everyday clothes. The media swelled around the congressman, who obliged with a statement. He would be presenting some 52,000 signatures to qualify for the county board president ballot.

Off to the side, Scott Cisek, campaign manager for Preckwinkle’s bid, pointed out a continuing wrinkle in Davis’s effort to head county government: “He’s still running for congressman.”

Davis was first elected to go to Washington on behalf of the 7th District, a sprawling territory that comprises a series of diverse city neighborhoods from the South Loop and Gold Coast to Lawndale and Austin, and several Near West suburbs, in 1997.

While the congressman promoted the signature drop Monday — and a hobnobbing breakfast beforehand at the Hotel Allegro — for his county board president effort, Davis hasn’t ruled running again in the 7th District.

The Davis campaign is defending the congressman’s wait-and-see approach. When asked about candidates who may be waiting for Davis to decisively join one race or the other, Tumia Romero, a spokesperson, told Chicago Journal last week, “They’re crybabies.”

“He has the ability to do it — he has the leverage to do it,” she said of the tactic. “It’s within the law. The law says Danny Davis has until Nov. 9 to decide what he wants to do.”

Candidates for congressional races running under the banner of an established political party (like the Democratic ticket, Davis’s side) must collect at least .5 percent of qualified primary electors living in the district in question, according to the state’s board of elections.

Signatures are due to the state board Nov. 2. All objections to signatures on the petitions must be filed by Nov. 9.

“We have our options open, and we’re going to run obviously in a campaign that is winnable,” Davis said Monday. “We’re going to take into consideration all the political factors surrounding a political situation. We’ll make our determinations on the basis of that.”

As Davis calculates, some candidates are jumping into the race for the 7th; others are apparently weighing their next move.

Among the declared contenders are Darlena Williams-Burnett, chief deputy Cook County Recorder of Deeds, and Jim Ascot, a real estate agent who has unsuccessfully challenged Davis in the past.

Ascot campaign manager Scott Speegle acknowledged that if Davis goes all-in with the county board president’s race, the dynamic changes.

“It doesn’t take a political genius to look at the landscape in terms of incumbents getting re-elected to Congress,” Speegle said. “We feel we have a better shot if he’s not in the race.”

Reverend Marshall Hatch is running for the seat as well.

Also eyeing the 7th District seat is Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd), the freshman city council member.

Jerry Green, a Near West Side resident and “area coordinator” in Fioretti’s political organization, confirmed that he and other volunteers are gathering signatures for a Fioretti-to-D.C. effort.

“It was a matter of sitting down, looking at the numbers and saying, ‘Why not?’” said Green, who attended Davis’s breakfast Monday.

Martin Ritter is spearheading the drive. Ritter, a West Loop resident, also campaigned for Fioretti during the alderman’s ultimately successful battle for the 2nd Ward throne more than two years ago.

He said a group of more than 100 volunteers assembled on their own — they weren’t asked to do so by the alderman, Ritter insisted — to gather signatures.

Ritter described the volunteers as a group who stayed in touch after the last aldermanic campaign and last year’s presidential race.

The volunteers will continue gathering names ahead of the Nov. 2 filing deadline.

Then, said Ritter, “We’re going to sit down with Ald. Fioretti and say, ‘Do you want to be on the ballot?’ We’re going to tell him our honest number and give an accounting. If he chooses to get on the ballot, we’ll take the next steps with him.”

Fioretti’s decision hinges, at least on part, on what Davis decides to do. If the congressman stays in the race, Fioretti won’t pursue it. “He would win if he went again,” the alderman said of Davis.

But if Davis plunges into the county race full tilt, that won’t automatically trigger Fioretti pursuing Congress.

“It’s a very serious step,” Fioretti said of shooting for the D.C. office.

Contact: mmaidenberg@chicagojournal.com

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