Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Mr. Roche Will Not Go to Washington—Danny Davis Made Sure of That

The nine-term West Side Congressman is all but guaranteed a tenth, now that his Democratic primary opponent has bowed out of the race.

Danny Davis during his mayoral campaign, December 27, 2010

Dan Roche, an Oak Park native who lives in River Forest with his wife and two young children, decided he wanted to run for the 7th District congressional seat. That would be the seat that Danny Davis has held for nine terms and will almost certainly hold for ten.  

Roche, 38, noted on his website that the district needs “a 21st century congressman able to solve 21st century challenges,” a clear hit at Davis, 72, who grew up on a cotton farm in Arkansas and carries an air of the old-fashioned about him.

Over the course of the last three months, Roche seemed to have a pretty good campaign going, so I was surprised when he dropped out this morning. He told me that he was worn down by challenges to his petitions and advised by his lawyer that the cost of defending signatures—currently five figures to defend hundreds of signatures, according to Roche—would continue to grow. The petition challenge, launched by Clayton Boyd, Congressman Davis’s part-time staffer and friend (in Davis’s words, an “activist and politically involved person”) wouldn’t end any time soon.  

In today’s email to supporters, Roche wrote: “The real purpose of the challenge was to waste our time and money as we attended hearing after hearing at the Board of Elections, requiring full preparation of election lawyers and paid staff.”

I talked to both Davis and Roche by telephone today; Davis in Washington and Roche from his day job here at CME as Director of Global Security. I’ve interviewed Davis many times before and I’ve never heard his always-gorgeous voice sound more energetic and joyful. Roche sounded frustrated and deflated.

Roche had some savvy people working for him,  and more interns than he could use. He was raising some money ($50-75,000 in two months, he says, and the same in “commitments”), and he claims that he was accumulating endorsements from “suburban officials” and Chicago alderman, but he won’t name names.  

 “The process [of defending petitions] was becoming too costly,” Roche said. He added that Davis—who told me he has won every race with 80 percent of the vote, his last race with 81 percent—has “never challenged anyone’s petitions before. They challenged my wife’s signature.” Roche posits that Davis saw him as a real threat, as “a viable alternative.  I have a history of public service, fourth generation in the area, business experience, enthusiasm and energy and the potential to raise real money.”

I asked Roche if he’d run again in the 7th—he absolutely rules out moving his family to another less safe district. He called the result of his short campaign “disheartening,” but said “I would be remiss if I didn’t consider running again.”  He comes back often to his 9-year service, much of it “in harm’s way,” abroad, in the CIA. He joined right after 9/11, working in “counterterrorism analysis and operations. I know government service and it’s not the commuter flight between Reagan and O’Hare.

“Right now I’m just a citizen, which seems a pretty good thing,” Roche says.  “I’ve been in some lousy, lousy places overseas.”

I asked Davis, 72, a West Side resident who has been in Congress since 1997, how long he plans to stay. He offered no end date, saying that his health has been good, “and I haven’t missed a day of work in I can’t say how long.”

He agreed that he will not have an opponent in the Democratic primary; he will in the general election, a Republican named Robert Bumpers. Bumpers’s chances of victory are slim to none, but Davis told me he planned to campaign “vigorously” anyway. He claims to work “15-16 hours a day, around the clock; as perennial as green grass grows,” adding that he works “more hours than any one who worked for me; more hours than 90 percent of people in America.” He returns to the district every weekend, he noted, and fills his days and nights with radio shows, TV, meetings, speeches, visits to churches, etc.  

Job creation, he says, will be his number one priority in this congress and the next. He described the country as “facing one of the most difficult economic periods in our history.  I can’t remember it being any worse than it is now. Finding a job for people who are unemployed is like finding an old man’s teeth. They are few and far apart… The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”  And that, he stressed, goes for the 7th where disparities of wealth run from the suburb of Oak Park to the Loop to Chicago’s Gold Coast to the city’s North Lawndale and Englewood communities.

In  Lawndale, Englewood, East and West Garfield Park, Davis says, unemployment is 40 percent or higher. “If you find 10 African American males walking in one of those neighborhoods, five of them have likely had an encounter with the law that has given them a lifetime criminal record and makes it near impossible to find a job.” Davis is a mover on the percolating legislation to prevent employers, public and private, from asking about criminal history.  “I’m the leading guy on reentry,” he says.

Davis argued that his district benefits from his “seasoning,” from the fact that he “really understands what’s going on…. Sometimes people who are not engaged, they don’t know how difficult it might be to run against somebody who is engaged.”  He says he “never met Mr. Roche, don’t know Mr. Roche… never seen him at town halls and forums that I hold with regularity.”

(Roche told me that he has met Davis “at least five times,” including at a town hall when he asked a question and Davis gave a response, but not to his question.)

While I had Davis on the line, I could resist asking him about a few other issues:  Does he want Obamacare to morph into a single payer national health care system?  “Yes,” he said emphatically.  He described the ACA as “the most progressive step toward this.” 

He told me he has no plans to run for mayor; he flirted with the possibility in 2011 and ran against Rich Daley in 1991. He refused my request to give Rahm Emanuel a grade. When I asked him if he’ll be supporting Rahm for reelection in 2015, he said it depends who’s running against him, and suggested that Ald. Bob Fioretti might run and so might Karen Lewis, the Chicago Teachers Union head: “she would have a lot of support.”  

He said he was with Barack Obama from “day one” in the 2008 primary fight with Hillary Clinton, but in 2016 he’s “all in” for Hillary.  “I’m ready for Hillary Clinton. Put me in that group that wants to see Hillary run and be elected.… America is ready for a woman president.” He wants to see the Obama library and museum built at UIC, both because it’s a public institution and because it’s in his district; and because it’s closer to where he lives.

Davis did say that by the time Obama library opens he’d be retired, so Dan Roche should mark his calendar. That might be the optimal time to launch another campaign for the 7th District seat.

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