Laura Washington: How long is too long for a Chicago congressman?

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When is enough enough?

Why can’t longtime, accomplished politicians hang it up before they hit the wheelchair? Why can’t they gracefully retire, mentor and pass the torch to the next generation?

Politicians loathe the idea of retirement. For too many, elective office is a full employment plan — for themselves.


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U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis called a Labor Day weekend press conference to announce he would run for re-election.

He has served the 7th Congressional District for 19 years. Add stints as an alderman and Cook County commissioner for a total of 36 years.

Davis announced on his 74th birthday, proudly in-your-face about racking up the big numbers.

“We need as much seasoned leadership as we can get,” he said. His experience and commitment are needed, in a nation and the world faces grave challenges.

“Davis noted he is No. 73 in seniority among House members,” the Sun-Times reported.

Bringing home the political bacon and advocating for social and economic justice has been a hallmark, particularly for Davis’ West Side base. No one in Congress has worked harder and longer for criminal justice reform.

Davis’ South Side counterpart, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (1st), also a former alderman, has been in office for a total of more than three decades.

There are at least two generations of dozens of ambitious and talented men and women who would bring fresh, creative new leadership to communities in great need.

But they will sit on their hands.

And wait.



In African American politics, we espouse a self-defeating philosophy. The civil rights movement gave us hard-won representation, so we must respect and protect our political elders, forever. The system is jerry-rigged to favor incumbents, who have the money, the ballot recognition and a lock on establishment support.

Amara C. Enyia isn’t waiting. She has announced a bid to end Davis’ long tenure, calling for “bold, new vision in the 7th congressional district.”

“We can no longer settle for status-quo thinking. We need a strong, vibrant voice with progressive thinking and action now more than ever.’’

Enyia, 32, is a community organizer and economic development consultant. She mounted a bid for Chicago mayor earlier this year, but dropped out to support another candidate.

She has never held office, a plus. She possesses a vibrant energy and intellect, along with a Ph.D. in education policy and a law degree from the University of Illinois-Urbana.

She is not standing on tippy toes waiting to grab the torch that will never come.

“I don’t want to take away from the years of service of the incumbent, but we can’t afford to have symbolic leadership,” she said Friday in a phone interview.

Long-serving politicians become so “deeply entrenched” she says, they become “complacent” and “stagnant.”

Enyia believes that “the returns of public service diminish once you have been in office for a certain period of time.”

Waiting is a mindset that the African-American community can no longer afford, she added. “That is not what democracy is all about.”

Diminishing returns are painfully vivid in the 7th district. Enyia lives in Garfield Park on the city’s West Side. For decades, the area has suffered from disinvestment, massive unemployment and festering violence. “People are dying, she declared, and “losing hope.”

“I don’t have time for notions of respect and disrespect.”

Neither do we.


Follow Laura Washington on Twitter: @MediaDervish

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