Davis, Dixon, Williams-Burnett, Ascot Vie for 7th District SeatJanuary 28, 2010
By Susan S. Stevens
The 7th Congressional District runs from downtown across the West Side to the western suburbs and has three candidates challenging U.S. /Rep. Danny Davis in the Democratic primary: Alderman Sharon Dixon, Chief Deputy County Recorder Darlena Williams-Burnett, and real estate agent and political novice Jim Ascot.
Danny Davis, 68, was a Cook County commissioner and Chicago alderman before he was elected to Congress in 1996. He decided to run for a seventh Congressional term only after considering a run for Cook County Board president. He has endorsed Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown over incumbent County Board President Todd Stroger for that post.
Davis said remaining in Congress will allow him to work on areas he believes need more attention — job creation, health care, and education — and, he said, “I am good at it.”
As a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, Davis believes he can help retain U.S. jobs and create new ones. “Trade policy has had tremendous impact on the ability of people to find work in America. It affects everything from clothing to candy — Chicago has been the candy capital of the world. We have lost a lot,” Davis said of candy makers and other businesses moving out of state.
“Health care remains a problem, though I think we are closing in on it,” Davis said. He expected health reform legislation to help 30 million people to be on President Barack Obama’s desk by primary election day. Education still needs much more help, Davis said, but he is pleased with federal funding provided in the last two years to the University of Illinois at Chicago, Columbia College, Loyola University, and the National Teaching Academy and to schools with predominantly black and Hispanic students.
He also is proud of legislation that in 2010 will provide $100 million to give former criminal offenders a second chance. “We have a long way to go because we have a lot of people caught up in our criminal justice system,” Davis said.
“I think with the business experience I have I could be a much more effective representative of the district,” Ascot said. He said Davis has become complacent, and “I think we need someone new with a little more energy” to bring new things to the district. For example, Ascot said, economic stimulus funds were slow to reach the district.
The West Side’s more than 25% unemployment worries him. “We need that extra work.” He would like to tap into the district’s many Fortune 500 companies to help poorer areas. “We have affluence and poverty in a matter of blocks,” he said.
A West Loop resident, Ascot’s parents brought him to the United States from Greece when he was nine. Originally named Demitri Ascotiris, his first job was standing on a soda crate to wash dishes in his parents’ restaurant. He is president of the Ascot Realty Group, a commercial real estate service company, and is a past president of the Chicago Association of Realtors and Association of Industrial Real Estate Brokers. When Ascot turned 21, his father said, “Let’s vote. This is the most important thing you can do in America.”
“I am not looking for a career” in Congress, “only to spend enough time in the House to benefit the district,” Ascot said. “Step up, then step away.”
“I think I would be more attentive to the district as a whole,” she said. She believes Davis is “looking at a comfort zone,” paying attention to the western part of the district while residents of the east side of the district “complain profusely,” she said. “Stabilize jobs” is her chief goal. She notes the district contains one of the few remaining vibrant industrial areas in the area. In addition, she wants to stop the Chicago Housing Authority from forcing people dislocated from demolished projects to move out of the city. She also vows to be more responsive to small businesses and small and midsized banks.
At the recorder’s office, Williams-Burnett helped develop and implement a plan to guard against identity theft by concealing identifying information from office records. These technological upgrades also allow residents convenient electronic access to a number of forms and information. She replaced Danny Davis once before, when she was appointed to fill his vacancy on the Cook County Board after he as elected to Congress.
As a county commissioner, she broke a stalemate over construction of Stroger Hospital, proposing a model to justify its cost. As a member of the Cook County Forest Preserve District simultaneously, she sided with conservationists on prairie restoration. Williams-Burnett has been on the Democratic State Central Committee since 2002. She has been married for 19 years to Ald. Walter Burnett (27th); the couple lives near the United Center, “right in the center” of the district, she said.
If elected to Congress, she promises to be a “truly independent Democrat.” She said Davis displays a “lack of interest” in the district, missing about 17% of the votes including four on terrorism-related issues shortly after 9/11, Dixon claimed.
She chided Davis for voting for legislation that laid the legal foundation for the country’s economic collapse and said she would vote to “repeal the repeal” of the Glass-Steagall law, which had reined in risky banking practices for decades. She also criticized Davis for taking a trip to Sri Lanka, paid for by the Tamil Tigers revolutionaries, carrying a crown to be placed on Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s head, and failing to get the 24th Ward a fair share of President Barack Obama’s stimulus money.
“Davis has not gone to bat for us or raised his voice on our behalf,” she said. Dixon terms herself “a full-employment Democrat,” believes Americans have a right to health care, and said education is the way out of poverty. She is pro-choice and pro-peace, with serious reservations about whether Obama’s plan for Afghanistan is right or workable.
She became a community activist when she could not get her garbage picked up, street swept, trees trimmed, or sewers cleaned. To get those things done, she started the 16th-to-18th Street Central Park Avenue Block Club. She worked in the Cook County and Northwestern Memorial hospitals, as an American Airlines flight attendant, and for two years at the Ada S. McKinley social service agency before she ran for alderman.