U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, whose sprawling 7th District includes the West Side, is considering running for president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, a position that has been a lighting rod of controversy during the reign of incumbent President Todd Stroger.

“I’ve had a great time in Congress, especially the last few years, with major bills being passed, money being approved, influence being exercised, helping to write reforms,” said Davis in a recent interview. “Right now all of that is well and good. I enjoy it. But I think there is another responsibility calling.”

Davis said polling authorized by his office had him beating Comm. Forrest Claypool, the county board commissioner widely seen as a front runner before he dropped out of the race in June. Davis has formed an exploratory committee for his possible candidacy.

A former Chicago alderman and two-time member of the county board, Davis had previously expressed interest in the president’s seat when John Stroger, the late former head of the county and Todd Stroger’s father, took ill in 2006.

Since the younger Stroger succeeded his father, the board has been known for its fractious politics and heated debates. Many of those squabbles have centered on the 1-percent sales tax increase Stroger and his supporters claimed was needed to preserve Cook County’s health care system.

Davis refused to say whether the board made the right decision on the tax increase. While acknowledging taxes are a major issue for many voters, Davis stressed that there is just as much concern over how tax dollars are ultimately used.

“I want to make sure the Cook County taxpayer gets the greatest return on their investment, which is their tax dollar,” he said. “You want to get the biggest bang for the buck.”

Speaking in generalities, Davis said his priorities would include ensuring high-quality health care for the poor and working with Chief Judge Tim Evans to improve the judicial system. Davis included helping former Cook County inmates transition back into society as another priority.

All those issues, he insisted need work, saying: “I simply believe that improvement is the order of the day. I’ve never seen anybody do anything as well as it could be done.”

And better operations, according to Davis, could close the gap between the city and suburban Cook County. No one, he said, wants to deny inner-city residents the opportunity to get medical care.

With the Democratic Party primary for the board presidency scheduled for Feb. 2, 2010, a variety of area elected officials are starting to declare their intentions regarding the race.

Chicago Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th) is in, and recently debuted a sophisticated new Web site for her campaign. Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown has announced her candidacy for board president. Former Chicago schools’ boss Paul Vallas will not run. Other candidates whose names are floating around include Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and Assessor Jim Houlihan.

Davis commended the field of candidates. But he maintained his experience with public policy puts him at the front of the increasingly crowded pack.

“I’ve done it much more than any of them. I’ve done it more effectively than any of them,” he said. “None of them have the kind of experience that I have.”

Contact: mmaidenberg@chicagojournal.com