U.S. Rep. Danny Davis’ decision to leave his seat in Illinois’ 7th Congressional District for a run at the Cook County Board presidency next year has some West Side hopefuls scrambling to replace him.

As reported in Austin Weekly News July 30, Davis, a seven-term congressman, will let his term expire in order to challenge Cook County Board President Todd Stroger in next year’s election. Davis, 67, previously served on the Cook County Board from 1990 to 1996.

The race to replace the longtime congressman is now wide open as one former rival has already jumped in the race while other elected officials consider a run.

Chicago real estate businessman Jim Ascot has announced he’s running. Ascot, 58, who owns Ascot Realty Group, lost to Davis in 2006 and has never held public office.

“Jim is definitely running,” said Scott Speegle, his campaign manager. “We’ve already begun working on a Web site and started a petition.

“We do want to emphasize that our intention is to run for the open seat and not against Cong. Davis,” Speegle added, maintaining that Ascot would not be in the race if Davis were a candidate.

West Side state Rep. Annazette Collins (10th) told Austin Weekly News that she plans to run in the 2010, 7th District race. Collins, 47, has been a state representative since 1998.

“I’m planning on kicking off my campaign shortly after Labor Day,” she said. “I have begun to assemble my staff and consider a campaign headquarters. Expect me to make a formal announcement right after the Labor Day holiday.”

The potential field of candidates also includes some upstart hopefuls. State Rep. LaShawn Ford (8th) has expressed interest in running. He was elected in 2006 after two previous runs for the 8th District legislative seat. But Ford, 36, stressed that he’s going to wait until later in the year before making a decision.

“We have until Oct. 26 to declare what seat we are running for and I want to see what the congressman does at that time. But if he does step down, then I am interested in running for the seat,” he said.

Next year’s 7th District race has attracted West Side minister, Rev. Marshall Hatch of New Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church in West Garfield Park. A longtime community activist, Hatch’s last run for political office was for 29th Ward alderman against incumbent Isaac Carothers in 2003. The West Side pastor was also eying a challenge against Earlean Collins for Cook County Board Commissioner next year. He’s currently set up an exploratory committee concerning a 7th District run.

“I am 95 percent certain that I will run in an open race for the seat,” Hatch said.

Austin Weekly News contacted other hopefuls whose names have surfaced. State Rep. Deborah Graham (78th) and State Sen. Rickey Hendon (5th) were unavailable for comment and neither has expressed interest publicly in running.

State Sen. Don Harmon (39th) maintained that he’s not running and is happy in the Illinois Senate.

“I think when I look at the demographic of the district; I cannot imagine it not being a seat held by an African-American,” he said. “There will be many qualified persons of color running for the seat and I would not want to adapt a strategy to run against these qualified candidates.”

Illinois’ 7th District covers parts of Cook County, stretching from the west and south sides and to suburban areas, including Oak Park and Maywood. Davis, elected in 1996, replaced Cardiss Collins, the first black woman to represent the Midwest in Congress. She won a special election in ’73 to replace her husband, George Collins, who died in a plane crash in December 1972. The district was redrawn and renumbered from the sixth to the seventh after she took office.

Davis challenged but lost to Collins in the 1984 and 1986 Democratic primaries. She retired in 1996 after 23 years in the U.S. Congress and currently lives in Virginia at age 77.

The 7th Congressional District’s population totals more than 650,000, according to 2000 Census data. Blacks represent a majority of residents, totaling roughly 400,000, or 62 percent. Whites make up 29 percent, or just fewer than 200,000 residents. Hispanics represent 5.8 percent of the population. The district hasn’t elected a non-minority representative since the 1960s.

Terry Dean contributed to this story.