Democratic candidates vying Illinois’s 7th Congressional District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives panned President Barack Obama’s plan to send 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan, saying there should be an immediate withdrawal of American soldiers from the war zone.

In a forum hosted Saturday morning by the Democratic Party of Oak Park, questions from the audience prompted discussion on the economy, health care reform and the troop surge announced last week. The forum was held at Longfellow Community Center, 610 S. Ridgeland Ave.

In attendance were all six of the Democratic candidates running for the House seat: Jim Ascot, a Chicago real estate agent who had been a therapist at Loretto Hospital; Darlena Williams-Burnett, deputy recorder of deeds for Cook County; Clarence Desmond Clemons, a South Loop resident; community activist Robert Dallas, an Oak Parker; incumbent U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis; and Sharon Denise Dixon, a freshman Chicago alderman in the city’s 24th Ward.

Davis expressed reservation about the troop surge, saying he believes the war should have ended last week. “The redeeming part of the decision was to set a timetable in terms of saying when we will start withdrawing,” Davis said. “I hope that is going to be real.”

Williams-Burnett said the Afghan government should be held accountable for corruption and warlords aiding drug traffickers. She said she understands that our war-weary nation wants troops home, but she added that we should “let the military leaders there give us guidance.”

Dixon questioned whether the president’s Afghanistan plan would work. She contends that setting benchmarks for the Afghan government would allow U.S. troops to withdraw safely. “We are not going to come out anytime soon and to pull out haphazardly would be reckless and irresponsible,” said Dixon, a former flight attendant.

Ascot said that fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is too costly.

“We have to get out of there,” said Ascot, who had worked as a crisis interventionist at Loretto Hospital. “We can’t maintain an economy that’s failing and in crisis while spending over $200 billion on a war.”

Dallas and Clemons also want immediate troop withdrawal.

On health care reform, all the candidates preferred a single payer system similar to Medicare, but they said the public option is a good start. However, when asked about an amendment placing restrictions on abortion, they differed. U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, a Democrat from Michigan, placed an amendment in the House version of the health care reform bill restricting abortion coverage. The Senate vote on the bill may come by Christmas.

Ascot says the amendment is a “sidetrack” issue to detract from real debate on health care reform. Clemons said women have other options, including giving a child up for adoption. Dixon said she hoped the bill wouldn’t get watered down in the Senate, adding that abortions “should be legal, safe and rare.”

Davis voted against the Stupak amendment because, he said, he favors choice. Davis noted that he had a hand in writing some of the bill’s components, including expanding community health centers. “I like this bill,” Davis said. “It is not going to be the bill that I would have wanted, but I am willing to vote for it.”

Williams-Burnett said the proposed health care bill does little to address the escalating cost of health care. Instead, she said, the bill “gives more power to the big insurance companies that are part of the problem and never desired to be part of the solution.”

On a local note, many of the candidates were critical of the FDIC takeover of the banks that belonged to FBOP Corp., among which was Park National. Davis called the action the biggest mistake the FDIC has made. He contends that current banking policies are geared toward helping big financial institutions instead of mid-size and small banks.

Williams-Burnett said that, by giving out risky loans, many banks are to blame for their own financial woes. She also chided the Securities and Exchange Commission for not being more accountable.

“We put our money with these institutions, and we should be able to trust they are going to invest it properly, give us a decent return on our money and not force us into some level of poverty because someone is having a field day on the Ponzi scheme,” Williams-Burnett said, referring to the Bernie Madoff scandal.

Dixon blamed repeal of the Glass-Steagall act, a law that she said had protections for commercial and investment banking. If elected, Dixon said, she would work to overturn that repeal.

Ascot said Congress should have better oversight of such bodies as the Treasury, the FDIC and the Federal Reserve. He said these entities operate “individually and on their own without a … plan of where we’re going forward.”

Clemons said he wants more policies to close loopholes that prevent big corporations from paying taxes, while current policies penalize the “small guy.”