In his homegrown Arkansas style, U.S. Congressman Danny Davis (D-7th) invited participants in a town hall to share their concerns with him, Thursday, in the Forest Park Village Chambers. 

A favorite teacher from his Arkansas childhood taught him how to listen, Davis said. 

“With [her] in mind, I really listened to what citizens have to say. And I learned to be guided by that as Congress makes decisions,” Davis said. 

He began with international diplomacy. Davis said the Obama administration should be commended for keeping the United States out of further military conflict in Syria and Ukraine.

“I am so pleased we have been able to escape [additional] military engagement, in spite of provocation,” Davis said.

“We’ve been on the verge of war,” he added. “If we had a certain kind of president, chances are we’d have some tanks there. We’ve been able to stave off war. It’s a touchy situation.”

 Davis said he had met with the Park District of Forest Park to support an Illinois Department of Natural Resources grant for the new rec center being proposed by the park district. Oak Park also applied for IDNR grants in this funding cycle for Ridgeland Common upgrades. 

Moving to the national economic picture, Davis said the poor economy had taken a toll on an unexpected group of property owners: church congregations. Many church congregation buildings are on the verge of being foreclosed. He said he’s working to help them cover their mortgages through federal mortgage insurance.

Davis referred to the previous public meeting he held to address postage delivery problems last winter in Forest Park, Oak Park and River Forest. He told participants about the citizens advisory council of10-12 volunteers organized by Oak Park Postmaster Philip Crawford. 

Davis said he believed a “movement was underway” to get the federal government to address infrastructure issues. Locally, that meant there was a chance the villages of Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park might receive the federal TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant for a viaduct replacement at Harlem Avenue and South Boulevard. The three communities have been passed over for this grant for a number of years.

Charles Watkins, of Get Covered Illinois, gave an update on the Affordable Care Act. 

“The ACA has changed the lives of people at a variety of levels who have a first-time opportunity for affordable coverage,” said Watkins, noting that young people, 18-26, are now able to remain covered under their parents’ insurance. He also said the ACA had expanded state Medicaid benefits for Illinois residents. More than 216,000 Illinoisans are enrolled in the Illinois insurance market through ACA and around 287,000 people are enrolled in expanded Medicaid.

Watkins said mental health and substance abuse riders are also available on “every single plan.”

“It’s going to be a real game-changer,” he said.

Constituents at the meeting raised the lack of resources for mental illness, immigration reform, “off-shoring” of corporate profits, and incarceration rates resulting from the war on drugs. 

Brian Mullin, of Forest Park, said he had considered joining the military after graduating from Monmouth College but instead chose to serve in the Americorps “City Year” program, where he volunteered at Chicago’s Al Raby High School.

“For students, it’s hard to concentrate on school when they’re scared for their safety and don’t know what to do after school,” Mullins said. 

Davis said he knew Al Raby from his days as a public school educator and suggested that a change of heart and discipline were necessary to confront crime in Chicago.

“Crime and the problems we face relative to violence are not going to be solved by more policing,” Davis said. “John F. Kennedy said, ‘Peace does not rest in charters and covenants alone. It lies in the hearts of men.’

“We need to prevent the development of those violent attitudes and behavior.”  

To accomplish that, Davis said, “We must invest in programs like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts — human development activity.” 

In response to citizen questions about a recently released report on the Afghanistan ambush death of State Department worker (and River Forest resident) Anne Smedinghoff, Davis said he had met the family and would look into the follow-up reports. 

“People all over the area felt the village of River Forest had an outstanding display,” Davis said. “The whole town was in solidarity with [her] family.”


This article has been updated to correct the name of Al Raby school.

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...