Congressman Danny K. Davis and Anthony Clark, his challenger in the 7th District Democratic Primary, faced each other during a formal campaign event for the first time on Feb. 3. The short exchange was a study in contrasts, as Davis presented himself as the experienced statesman while Clark presented himself as the face of change. 

During the opening salvos of the roughly 15-minute exchange, which was sponsored by the Proviso Township Democratic Organization and hosted in Melrose Park, Clark echoed a critique of Davis that he first lodged earlier that week after Davis announced he was boycotting President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address on Jan. 30. 

“The issues we face are systemic,” said Clark, 35, who explained last week that he would have attended the address as a show of strength. “So many people are anti-Trump, but if you’re not anti-system that has led to Trump, you’re not doing anything. We have to change things systemically.” 

Davis, who has served in Congress since 1997, touted his experience in office while pointing out the Republican Party’s stronghold at the federal level. 

“Our country is facing one of the most difficult and challenging periods that any of us have ever known,” Davis said. 

“We’ve never experienced a time where one political party had control of the entire apparatus of federal government,” he added. “In order to challenge and block some of the draconian notions and ideas they have, you really need people who are serious and who understand the process.” 

Clark, a first-time candidate who teaches at Oak Park and River Forest High School and is founder of the nonprofit Suburban Unity Alliance, said that, if elected, he would extend the grassroots nature of his campaign to his governing style. 

“It’s extremely important to send the message to constituents about the importance of empowering ourselves,” Clark said. 

“It’s going to take 100 percent grassroots effort and boots on the ground to build bridges that haven’t existed throughout the 7th District between communities,” he added. “We need to do for ourselves. Nothing changes systemically on a national level until it changes on a local level.” 

Davis, after pointing out the pieces of legislation that he introduced, said he is more equipped to work with a GOP-dominated Congress to pass policies that might benefit his constituents. 

“If you read [the Almanac of American Politics], it says I’m able to convince colleagues across the aisle because of my consistent efforts to deal with the needs of the poor,” Davis said. 

Clark, after thanking Davis for his service, said, “What we’ve learned today is that [Davis] would do the same thing. Isn’t the same thing what got us to this point?” School closures and gun violence in the district, he added, have “continued to increase and current political leaders [are still trying] to address symptoms instead of treating root causes. I’m not the same thing.” 

Davis, who spoke last, shot back, “Marcus Garvey says that any group that does not know anything about its history is like a tree with no roots.

“I ain’t had nothing to do with people being impoverished except try to change it,” Davis said. “I ain’t had nothing to do with what 300 years of slavery and disadvantages have done, so to talk about Danny Davis as part of these problems is kind of ludicrous. It’s also an indication that one obviously does not know much about their history.”