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7th District Democrats Wait on Davis Decision in Illinois

Will he stay or will he go? That is the question these days on Chicago’s West Side as interested Democrats wait for Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) to decide which office he really is running for next year.

Davis said Monday that he is prepared to file for re-election to his Congressional seat if he decides to drop his bid for Cook County Board president before this fall’s deadline.

“I have enough signatures to turn in for the nominating process for re-election to Congress, should I choose to do so,— Davis said in a phone interview.

Davis announced in June that he would run for Cook County Board president and has since held a kickoff announcement and opened several campaign offices. But the seven-term Democrat has also been simultaneously gathering signatures for re-election to his 7th district seat.

Davis’ indecision has left Democratic candidates in the western Chicago district in limbo as they wait to see if Davis pulls the trigger on the Cook County Board race this fall.

“They know that if I’m a candidate for the Cook County Board, it’s ‘open sesame,’— Davis said. “And if I’m not a candidate for the Cook County Board, then perhaps they have to re-evaluate some of their thinking.—

Davis must turn his petition in to state election officials between Oct. 26 and Nov. 2 but would have until mid-November to withdraw either petition for County Board president or his Congressional seat. Davis said he was not sure yet if he would turn in both petitions at the end of October or just file for one office.

Davis has been thinking about moving on to another office for several cycles, even floating his name as a possible appointment for President Barack Obama’s former Senate seat last year. But Davis also gained a coveted spot on the House Ways and Means Committee earlier this year — a signal that many Illinois Democrats thought meant he would stay in the House.

And back in Chicago, Davis has encountered competition in the Cook County Board race. Davis, who served on the board before he came to Congress, is one of several black candidates in the open-seat race for Cook County Board president — a circumstance that could lead to the election of a nonblack candidate next year, much to the dismay of local black community leaders.

According to a couple of Democratic operatives familiar with the race, Davis thought he could clear the field if he ran, but that hasn’t happened.

“No one is really waiting to see what Danny does,— one Democratic operative said. “He’s not having a significant impact on other people’s decision-making process, whether it’s the county board race, or even in the 7th Congressional district.—

Among the candidates waiting on Davis is his former chief of staff, Richard Boykin. The Chicago attorney and lobbyist said he’s holding off circulating petitions until he knows for sure that Davis is running for county board instead of re-election.

“I would never do anything to undercut my former boss,— Boykin said. “The reality is that I think there is a chance that he will likely be back in Congress.—

After working for Davis for a decade, Boykin is also familiar with the Congressman’s dilemma.

“I believe that he has been working feverishly to have the right circumstance occur so that he can run for the Cook County Board,— Boykin said. “But, by the very same token, I don’t believe that Congressman Davis would be involved in a situation that might split the African-American community.—

But several other candidates are not waiting to see what Davis decides about the race: Alderman Sharon Dixon is running for Congress, according to her top aide, Frank Watkins.

Watkins said Dixon does not expect Davis to run for re-election, based on media reports, and he said she is “likely— to stay in the race even if Davis does run for re-election.

Davis’ 2006 primary challenger, real estate agent Jim Ascot, has already filed to run for Davis’ seat. Davis defeated Ascot, 89 percent to 8 percent, in the Democratic primary.

Unlike most of the rest of the potential 7th district field, Ascot is white. The majority of the population in the district is black. However, local political operatives point out that a nonblack candidate can win the seat if he or she has resources and there are multiple black candidates in the race.

Ascot campaign manager Scott Speegle said he is under the impression that Davis is running for Cook County Board president.

Cook County Chief Deputy Recorder of Deeds Darlena Williams-Burnett, the wife of an Alderman with the same last name, has also filed for the 7th district seat.

But other Democrats are still waiting to see what Davis decides.

State Rep. LaShawn Ford (D) said he is interested in running but is waiting for the filing deadline to see if Davis is going to run for re-election. He won’t run if the Congressman opts to stay in his current House seat. As an elected official in the state Legislature, he’s in a similar dilemma.

“I would be fundraising, and I would be campaigning across the district,— Ford said. “But of course, I have to respect my constituents as state Representative, and I really don’t want to be campaigning for Congress if I expect them to consider me for state Representative if he doesn’t run.—

State Sen. Rickey Hendon (D) also confirmed that he is circulating petitions to run for Davis’ seat. But he said he will ultimately defer to Davis, although he hopes it doesn’t come to that.

“I’m hoping so,— Hendon said. “I’m also circulating for lieutenant governor just in case he doesn’t.—

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