Two idealistic young candidates with little money and scant name recognition outside of Oak Park have filed nominating petitions to oppose longtime Congressman Danny Davis (D-Chicago) in the March 20, 2018, Democratic primary in the 7th Congressional District.
Oak Park and River Forest High School special education teacher and community activist Anthony Clark is one of the candidates. Clark, 35, also filed to run against Davis in the race for Democratic State Central Committeeman for the 7th District.
Clark said that he is running a grassroots, progressive campaign and that it's time for new leadership to address issues of systemic racism and oppression of people of color which still exist.
"We're also facing these issues because we've allowed current leadership to maintain status quo and to focus on party and career over people," Clark said. "And I feel to truly make systemic change, we need transformative leadership."
He said that Davis, 76, who was first elected to Congress in 1996, was a former Chicago alderman and has deep roots in independent black politics in Austin, is not a true progressive.
"I don't believe that he's truly progressive," Clark said. "I think that he's a status quo maintainer."
Clark, who grew up and lives in Oak Park, said he supports the legalization of cannabis while Davis does not, and that he will not accept contributions from political action committees while Davis does. Clark also supports free public college and Medicare for all.
Clark has been endorsed by an organization called Brand New Congress, which calls for replacing all incumbents, and Justice Democrats, a group that supports left-of-center Democrats.
"We're truly progressive," Clark said.
The other candidate who filed in the Democratic primary for the 7th Congressional District is 33-year-old Ahmed Salim.
Salim, a resident of the South Loop neighborhood, came to the Chicago area from Pakistan when he was 2-years-old. He graduated from Hinsdale Central High School, DePaul University and earned a law degree from Western Michigan University. Salim works as regulatory compliance officer for Presence Health.
Prior to working for Presence Health, Salim worked in northern California as a field representative for Congressman Jerry McNerrney, a Democrat.
Salim says that Davis has been in Congress for too long.
"You can't stay in office for 20 years and still feel like you can understand the problems of an everyday people," Salim said.
Salim said that, if elected, he would serve in Congress for no more than eight years. He says that he doesn't believe that people should make a career out of politics. But, Salim acknowledges that he is unlikely to win.
"I think a longshot is actually an understatement," Salim said of his chances.
Neither Clark nor Salim has raised much money.
As of Sept. 30, Salim had raised only $3,937, while Clark had raised nearly $28,000. However, Clark had spent about $23,000, leaving him with just $4,671.19, according to federal records.
Davis, on the other hand, had almost $277,000 in his campaign treasury while his campaign owed almost $59,000.
Despite the financial disparity, Davis's long record and name recognition outside of Oak Park, Clark says that he believes he can win the race.
"We really have a chance to win," said Clark whose campaign has two paid staff members. "Money is not everything. I think the message is getting out there. Of course, now that we're on the ballot we're definitely going to have to increase fundraising."
Clark said he plans to walk the length of the district, which ranges from Lake Michigan to the Tri-State tollway and includes substantial portions of the South Side of Chicago, to draw attention to his campaign.
"We're 100 percent individual grass roots donations," Clark said. "We're going to ramp up our donations, but it's not about that. It's about me working hard and it's about me connecting with constituents and my neighbors.
"I have no doubt in my mind that we're going to win this. This is a calling for me."
Neither Clark not Salim are quitting their day jobs for the campaign.
"I'm literally getting off work and heading out to door-knock," Clark said. "I'm hosting canvassing events every weekend."
Davis did not respond to a request for comment sent through his field office prior to deadline.