Conway, Davis talk education, PAC money
Oak Park, 02/25/12--7th Congressional District candidate Jacques Conway talks to voters at a meet and greet. The League of Women Voters of Oak Park and River Forest hosted a Candidates Fair at the Dole Branch Library on Saturday. | Jon Langham~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 2, 2012 8:37AM
Jacques Conway, who is opposing 7th District U.S. Congressman Danny K. Davis in the March 20 Democratic primary, readily acknowledges the 70-year-old Davis is a Chicago icon.
“I’m not running against Danny K. Davis. I’m running for the opportunity to serve our country,” Conway said Saturday, suggesting he would be more focused than Davis. “I believe that when you go to Washington, you should have a purpose.”
The retired Oak Park cop, ordained minister, social service administrator and former park district and school board member joined Davis at a League of Women Voters candidate fair Saturday at Dole Library in Oak Park.
But Davis, a former Chicago alderman and Cook County commissioner prior to winning a seat in Congress in 1996, has a history of social and political activism dating back to the 1970s. So he easily played the role of gracious and accomplished incumbent.
“I’ve passed major pieces of legislation that have helped change the landscape in this country,” he said. Chief among those accomplishments, he said, was the Second Chance Act, legislation that assists ex-offenders in transitioning from prison to civilian life.
Conway said his primary concern is addressing an educational system that under-serves minorities, condemning them to a hopeless and helpless life. He called the degree to which our education system is failing many minority children “heart-wrenching” and “a national crisis.”
“My whole purpose is to bring light to the disparity in education that’s currently run through local states and local school districts,” Conway said. That disparity is “creating a population of young kids who will never be able to achieve making it into the middle class.”
“There’s such a disparity from district to district and from state to state that it’s gotten to a point where I think it’s a national crisis,” Conway said. “Basically your zip code dictates the quality of education you’ll receive.”
“It starts with preschool, full-time kindergarten,” Conway said. “It’s been scientifically proven that if (children) don’t get it by third or fourth grade, you can pretty much (predict) that they’re going to be in someone’s penal institution by the time they come of age.”
“I must take this fight to a higher level,” Conway said. “Unless we have a voice in Washington that will speak for those kids, we will have a generation that will end up in our prison system.”
Picking up on Conway’s comments, Davis stressed the necessity of prevention rather than remediation with education.
“I’ve always been told that an ounce of prevention is worth much more than a pound of cure,” Davis said. “We’ve got to make sure that as young people are growing up, that they get optimal opportunities to develop and learn as much as they can.”
Conway also said he wants to change a political system that is heavily skewed toward the wealthy and large campaign donations.
“We buy the position now,” Conway said. He disparaged the culture of lobbying and political action committee donations to politicians.
“Why do I need a check to vote for something I know is right,” he said.
Davis decried the current culture of political rancor in national politics, saying, “There is so much strife in our political system.”
“And so much money involved in the political process. We’ve got to find a way to get some of the self-interest money out of politics,” Davis said.
We must choose, he said, “protecting the general interest over protecting private interests.”
Conway called for term limits on Congress, decrying the phenomenon of professional politicians more concerned with their careers than with representing the people. Davis is seeking his ninth term.
“I think seven to ten years is a reasonable amount of time,” he said. “I don’t know the minimal, but I think unlimited (terms) is too much.”
Conway acknowledged Davis’s huge campaign advantage, but said that had no bearing on his decision to run.
“Let’s be frank. No one knew Congressman Davis was going to run again,” he said prior to his speech. “He ran for Cook County Board President and pulled out, he ran for (Chicago) mayor and pulled out,” he said. One Chicago newspaper, he said, noted Davis has been trying to find a way out of Washington for 10 years.
For his part, Davis praised Conway’s record of service, saying he didn’t believe Conway has ever done badly at anything he did.
When they were finished, Conway and Davis shook hands warmly and smiled.