Gun activist Kina Collings, 31, looked over at U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis at the end of a recent candidates forum organized by the Chicago Westside NAACP and said running against the longtime congressman was not easy, as he has a rich history on Chicago’s West Side.
Then, she added, “it is time for a change.”
Davis, 80, responded: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Davis’ campaign has focused on reminding constituents of his achievements in Congress, where he has represented Illinois 7th District residents since 1997. Davis has been more active on the campaign trail participating at community events, holding online town halls and even running TV ads than in year’s past.
Collins, challenging Davis for a second time in the Democratic primary, hopes to bring change to the district. In 2020, the Austin native won just 13.8% of the vote, while Davis easily won with 61.4%. Teacher Anthony Clark and attorney Kristine Schanbacher also were on the ballot two years ago.
This time around, Denarvis Mendenhall, a West Side resident and U.S. Air Force veteran, also is running.
Collins, viewed by many as more progressive than Davis, has secured endorsements from a number of liberal groups, including People’s Action and Justice Democrats. Justice Democrats, a national Political Action Committee, is notable for helping New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez beat fellow Democrat Rep. Joe Crowley after 10 terms in office.
Earlier this month, the Chicago Tribune endorsed Collins’ campaign after supporting the congressman in previous elections. Last weekend, the New York band “The Strokes” performed in Chicago to support her congressional run.
Davis was endorsed over the weekend by President Joe Biden. In a statement issued Sunday morning – just two days before the primary – the president said Davis “is deeply rooted in his community” and has served with passion and integrity.
The congressman is close to both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, the Sun-Times reported. “When Harris was running for president in 2020, Davis was one of her early backers. Once she dropped out, Davis endorsed Biden at a critical time … a day before the first-in-the nation presidential vote in Iowa,” reported the Sun-Times.
The three Democrats vying for the 7th congressional seat share the same positions on most issues, including affordable housing, foreclosure relief, labor rights, reparations and the legalization of marijuana.
However, unlike the other candidates, Collins has touted support for canceling all student loan debt. She also promises to address the life expectancy gap that predominantly affects Chicago’s Black population by creating a healthcare task force in her first 100 days in office.
One area of disagreement surfaced at a candidates’ forum recently at Bethel New Life; the three contenders were asked about whether they supported transgender women competing with other women in sports.
Davis said, “Women who are women should play in women’s sports, and men who say they’re men should play in men leagues. I don’t think that women should be trying to play football with the Bears.”
Mendenhall said transgender women should not be allowed to compete against other women: “God made us different, so I don’t believe that men should cross over, no matter how much hormone suppression they have, they should not be able to cross over to women’s sports.”
Collins said she supports the LGBTQ+ community and rejects the notion of convincing other elected officials on this topic, saying she would rather focus on garnering support for important issues like voting rights.
“I think that the GOP has done a really good job of creating an echo chamber to create another group that we can hate each other instead of passing real things.”
While Davis and Collins have similar priorities, Collins said she plans to tackle gun violence through prevention strategies that include education, housing, and pandemic relief and recovery for families.
Collins also emphasized health care and COVID-19 relief and recovery as part of the three top priorities she would champion if she defeats Davis.
“I think that we need to hold gun manufacturers accountable for the illegal trafficking of guns that continue to happen here in the state of Illinois and mainly in the city of Chicago,” she said.
Davis said the top three priorities he deals with on a daily basis are the reduction of poverty, criminal justice reform and education. “African Americans are the most incarcerated people in the United States of America, and Americans are the most incarcerated people in the world,” he said.
At last month’s forum, the candidates were also asked about issues that specifically affect Austin residents, such as affordable housing and air pollution.
Citing a recent study that found Austin has one of the highest levels of air pollution in Chicago, especially at the intersection of Chicago and Cicero avenues, panelists asked the candidates about what specific actions they would take to protect West Side residents from health impacts caused by traffic-related air pollution from companies like Amazon.
Collins, a supporter of a Green New Deal, said she would actively work with organizations like People’s Action to ensure she builds intersectional policies that help transition to a green economy.
“When I say I want a community benefits agreement, it’s so that major corporations like Amazon don’t get to come in and are not held accountable when people’s lives are on the line,” she said.
Davis said he has a 96% voting record on environmental issues and recalled past environmental accomplishments, including when he helped years ago close down a garbage incinerator on the West Side. In 1996, under then-Mayor Richard Daley, the city of Chicago announced the closing of the West Side garbage incinerator; Davis served as Cook County commissioner at the time.
Mendenhall agrees there are “a lot of truck emissions” on the West Side, and he would encourage companies to invest in electric vehicles. He would also ask companies to reduce traffic in school areas where families and children are present.
When asked about their plans to provide affordable housing, Davis said as a member of the congressional Black Caucus, he has worked in the creation of the Emergency Rental Assistance program.
Mendenhall said the 7th District “looks like Afghanistan with all the vacant lots,” so he would build in those areas and engage with community leaders and developers.
Collins said one of the actions she would take is to hold banks accountable for their lending practices and work to end discriminatory practices.
All three agree that homeownership is a gateway to wealth and more needs to be done to ensure Black Americans can afford to buy a home.
They also support the legalization of cannabis at the federal level, although their reasons differ.
Mendenhall said marijuana has “way more positive effects than negative effects.” He noted the medical benefits of marijuana and said he personally does not know “anybody who has committed a violent crime under the influence of marijuana.”
Davis said for a long time he opposed the legalization of cannabis but has finally “come around.”
Collins said cannabis legalization is not only an economic issue but a criminal justice reform issue, as many “Black men are still sitting in jail for a dime bag of weed.”
The candidates were asked about who’s funding their campaigns, including whether they accept funds from major corporations that “interfere with workers’ right to organize” like Amazon.
Davis said he returned a $1,000 donation that Amazon gave to his campaign and emphasized he has been a strong union supporter during his political career and will continue to be a part of “the fight against big corporate entities.”
In contrast, Collins campaign has “not taken a dollar from corporations, real state developers or private equity.”
Mendenhall said he “is not interested in their money.”
Collins has raised more money than the rest of the contenders, though the congressman has more cash on hand. Data kept by the Federal Election Commission shows that Collins raised $298,102 between Jan. 1 and March 31, while Davis raised $151, 386.
As of March 31, Davis reported having $544,000 on hand, while Collins had $125,000, according to Politico.
The last day to vote in the primary election is June 28th; polls will be open Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Early voting continues at the Chicago Board of Elections at 191 N. Clark and at the early voting sites available in all 50 wards. The 29th Ward’s voting site is located at Amundsen Park at 6200 W. Bloomingdale Ave., while the 37th Ward’s site is at the Chicago Library at 4856 W. Chicago Ave.