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Questions and answers with mayoral candidate Danny Davis

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

For the last 13 years, Danny Davis has represented the West Side of Chicago in Congress. He served as an alderman and Cook County Commissioner before that. His district has some of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods, many of which are full of ex-offenders looking for jobs.

Davis pulled off something of a miracle in 2008, persuading Republicans — including then President George W. Bush — to back a $100 million-a-year bill to rehabilitate ex-offenders. Using simple math, he showed them it’s cheaper for taxpayers to teach ex-cons new skills than to put them back in prison.

The Second Chance bill answers the question of whether Davis’ deep, melodious, Barry White voice — Sen. Dick Durbin calls Davis “The Voice of God” — is just air or whether he can back it up with action.

Davis laid out his vision for what he’d like to do as mayor of Chicago at his West Loop basement campaign headquarters, sitting beneath maps of the 12th, 14th and 16th wards, among others. This is a former Barack Obama campaign office. And this is Davis’ second run for mayor.

Q. The Second Chance Act: You persuaded conservative Republicans to support millions of dollars for training . . .

A. Right now we’re getting over $100 million in appropriations for that program. I also was at Sen. Mark Kirk’s swearing-in, who also is a Republican, who beat my good friend Alexi Giannoulias. Government involves compromise. There is no such thing as one getting all of their way all of the time. Anyone who thinks so just needs to ask Barack Obama. I think the City Council plays a very meaningful role and will play an even more meaningful role in a Danny Davis administration than it has been accustomed to playing. I think the best ideas are those that are publicly debated, publicly discussed, publicly vetted. Sometimes business and industry is going to agree with me. Sometimes labor unions are going to agree. You have to deal in realities of budgets, money you’ve got and money you don’t have.

Q. And right now it’s mostly money we don’t have. How do you fix Chicago’s budget crisis? What do you cut?

A.The first thing you do is get cooperation, establish a real working relationship with the aldermen. People think the mayor of Chicago is kind of like [a] king even though we have a strong council, weak mayor form of government. It generally has not worked that way. It’s obvious you’re going to have to cut some things. You might save a little bit of money if you use the grid system of collecting refuse instead of the ward system. There are some things you can perhaps consolidate with other units of government. You may be able to consolidate elections. If there’s an election in the county and the city, maybe you only have one jurisdiction dealing with it. Maybe the city does not have to have the same election apparatus that the county has.

Q. There are a lot of fiefdoms you would upset changing garbage pickup and consolidating election offices.

A.There are some fiefdoms you will, in fact, upset, but in difficult situations, you have to make tough decisions, you have to make hard choices.

Q. With garbage collection, we have three guys on a truck now. Some places only have a driver. Could we get by with fewer?

A.With garbage, technology is constantly improving. I would not want to just lay people off and cut them loose. To lay off 200 workers, we’re not saving those 200 families anything. We’re not saving society anything, because, in the end, those individuals and their families, if we’ve got to pay for them to go to Cook County Hospital, or we’ve got to pay for them to get food stamps, or we’ve got to pay for some child or young person who gets disgruntled, ends up in the criminal justice system, then we’re paying still. I’d rather freeze wages than have to lay off people.

Q. Any other cuts?

A.With health care, maybe the city’s public health department focuses on education. Maybe the direct services are done in connection with the county’s health services or community health centers. You nickle-and-dime all of that, then you have to go after some new money. Hopefully we’re going to increase the state income tax. Transaction taxation is something that sometimes in a crunch, in a difficult situation, you begin to look at.

Q. You also want a downtown casino?

A.I recognize that you do difficult things in difficult times. I’m open to keeping some of the people who go over to Indiana [laughing] and take their money. Every day there are bus-loads of people that leave Chicago going to Indiana to the casinos. They leave what could be Chicago tax money over there. I’d like to have that tax money remain in Chicago. Whether or not it was municipally owned and run or not would need to be worked out.

Q. There are pictures that appear to show you placing a crown on the head of Rev. Sun Myung Moon, head of the Unification Church at a banquet. How’d that whole thing happen?

A.That’s a big lie. I was at the banquet. A fella named Michael Jenkins, whom I know, came up to me and said, “We are going to crown Rev. and Mrs. Moon ‘true parents.’ Would you do us a favor and carry one of them up to the place where they are sitting?” And I said, “Well, yeah, Michael, I think I can do that.” And so I carried the crown for Mrs. Moon. When I got to where she was, I gave it to somebody else and they then crowned her. So I didn’t put a crown on anybody, I was not even, I guess, a part of the ceremony. Why can’t the truth just be the truth?

Q. His church is very controversial. It has been called a “cult.” He’s made anti-Semitic and anti-homosexual statements. He’s a big promoter of conservative causes. How did you get to be friends with him?

A.I don’t have any friendship or relationship with Rev. Moon. I’ve seen Rev. Moon a few times in my life. He is very conservative in terms of his political philosophy. I have some difficulty with this guilt-by-association idea. The fact that Rev. Moon said some things at an event that I attended has no bearing whatsoever on my feelings. There is not a public official in the city of Chicago who has been more supportive of lesbians and gays than Danny Davis. You cannot find a single person that has been more supportive of the Jewish community of Chicago than Danny Davis.

Q. The question was were you being used? Did your presence at this banquet confer legitimacy on Moon?

A. I spend a lot of time with faith-based groups, Baptist preachers, Presbyterian ministers. The Unification Church is often at these gatherings. The conversations I’ve had with them center around 1) creating a peaceful environment in the world, and, 2) parenthood. The banquet I was at was a banquet where Rev. Moon and his wife were being honored for being “true parents.” A number of members of Congress were there. Most people call me the Judeo-Christian type. Love everybody, respect everybody, get along with everybody kind of guy who believes in “live and let live.’’ That’s the characterization of the guy on the street. That’s who the dope dealer will tell you Danny Davis is. That’s who the prostitute will tell you Danny Davis is. That’s who the rabbi will tell you Danny Davis is.

Q. One more controversy: Did the Tamil Tigers [which the U.S. State Department has labeled a terrorist group] pay for your trip to Sri Lanka in 2004?

A. The Tamil Tigers would be called “freedom fighters” by many people throughout the world. I’m not certain that the trip was paid for by the Tamil Tigers. It was paid for by a legitimate group organized to empower people of the Tamil heritage. The former director of employment and training in Cook County is one. The Tamils and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka have feuded for centuries. The Tamils were always a minority who said they were discriminated against by the majority, the same way black folks were discriminated against by slave-owners, or groups in Ireland were discriminated against by the dominant group.

Q. Your trip was after the tsunami?

A. The tsumani hit. Relief efforts were under way. The Tamils said the government was unfairly distributing the resources in Sinhalese areas and not Tamil areas. They asked if I would go and take a look. When we got there, the first thing we did was go to the U.S. Embassy. After we got back, one of the members of parliament who hosted us was assassinated coming out of his church on Christmas Day. We visited an orphanage. The government bombed the orphanage sometime after we were there. Forty kids were killed. They said they thought it was a terrorist training camp. The Justice Department came and asked us about it. It certainly wasn’t a pleasure trip. I’m a real advocate for the Tamil population. We just sent a letter to [Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton asking her to intervene.

Q. So you were born in Arkansas?

A. In Parkdale, the Southeast corner of the state, 10 miles from Louisiana. Bill Clinton and I used to kid each other that the state motto is “The Land of Opportunity” — the first opportunity we got, we left.

Q. You, John Stroger, Bill Clinton.

A. Scottie Pippin grew up 12 miles from there. Bob Love was from 35 miles away. Half the black politicians in Chicago: Tim Evans is from Hot Springs. The Shaw brothers are from Hope. My parents were share-croppers in Arkansas. They had very little formal education, but they were two of the smartest people I ever encountered. There were 10 of us. We grew up in what some people called “poverty.” We were never poor. We were positive thinkers. We were people who knew that life could be different than what it was.

Q. You were how old when you came here?

A. I was 19, just graduated from college. My father borrowed $50 and let me borrow it from him. That’s how I got here. The first paycheck I got I sent him his $50, because that was part of the values system we were taught.

Q. Do you think we need to re-align police beats?

A. It’s always been my position that you put resources were the need is. I liked what they used to do in New York for a while, whatever minor thing occurred you jump on it. We just don’t allow certain things to happen. I’m very fortunate on the block I live, we have a guy we call “The Mayor,” George Jones, my next-door mayor. Jackie Heard, the mayor’s press secretary lives two doors from me. George looks after everything on my block. I’d try to make sure there’s a George on every block.

I would initiate a strong program of block club organizing and neighborhood associations. That reduces certain kinds of need. You don’t need as much policing.

Q. Would you keep Police Supt. Jody Weis?

A. I would want to have conversations with department heads. I don’t approach situations with a lot of preconceived notions that you want to “clean house” or that you have to have wholesale removal of people.

Q. Have neighborhoods been neglected at the expense of downtown?

A. There has not been the balanced attention. You have to give credit for the development of downtown Chicago, Near South, Near West, Near North. But you get out into some of the neighborhoods and you see the vacant land. North Lawndale, you’ll see land vacant since Dr. King was assassinated. I believe in a concept called “linked development:” As you develop things downtown, that you balance that development by making sure you find a way to do the same thing in the Englewoods and the Lawndales. Public housing coming down, that’s a good thing. What has not happened has been the kind of replacement so that we didn’t lose any housing units. There are people in Chicago who are homeless. There are still people in Chicago sleeping under viaducts. I passed by a bunch of quilts and rags and things yesterday. I’m not sure if anybody was living there. We have to find a way to build more affordable housing in Chicago.

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