To describe John Monaghan as a long-shot candidate in Illinois’ 7th Congressional District race would be an understatement.
The political independent faces well-known incumbent U.S. Rep. Danny Davis in a district where Democrats are considered a shoo-in for public office. Monaghan’s campaign has raised no money and, in the age of the Internet, has no website or social media accounts.
“Ever heard of a shoestring budget?” he asked. “Well I don’t even have a string for my shoe.”
But Monaghan said he has one major asset: “I can talk. And I’m not afraid to talk.”
Monaghan, 64, hopes to chat his way to Congress on Nov. 6, when 7th District voters will decide who they want to represent them in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Davis, who was first elected to Congress in November 1996, easily won his past re-election races, and his current campaign is focused on increasing voter turnout rather than competing against challengers.
But Monaghan insists that’s exactly the point – Davis has faced no viable opposition since being elected to office, and he thinks it’s time for new leadership in the diverse district, which encompasses some of the richest and poorest areas of Cook County.
That’s not to say Davis has stiff competition this campaign cycle. Davis’ only other opponent, Republican candidate Rita Zak, has not raised any money either and admits she’s only running in protest.
Still, Monaghan and longtime West Side resident Alex Beverly, who has been tasked with the campaign’s day-to-day operations, stressed the importance of giving voters a choice, particularly in a district that includes parts of Chicago’s West and South sides plagued by crime, poverty and chronic unemployment.
“If anyone looks at anything around here, nothing’s changed,” Monaghan said last week at his campaign headquarters inside Rose’s Boutique in Oak Park. “Other congressional districts are doing a lot better. I’ll wake up the neighborhood.”
Monaghan was born in the 7th District, the first of seven children in an Irish Catholic family on Chicago’s West Side. The family moved to Hillside, a village in Cook County, when he was a child.
After high school in 1966, he joined the Air Force and served one tour in Vietnam. Monaghan said he can relate to the issues many veterans face transitioning back to civilian life, noting, “Nobody came back from that war the same.”
Upon leaving the military, Monaghan said he “crawled into a Scotch bottle” for several years. It’s not until a woman he dated asked, “Are you trying to drink Canada dry?” that he received the wake-up call he needed. He enrolled in food service management classes at the College of DuPage.
He served a stint in the Air Force Reserves but retired a master sergeant after suffering a heart attack. He’s held a range of jobs over the years – in sales, the food industry, with the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.
Monaghan said he briefly delved into politics in the early 1980s when he became precinct captain – and later secretary – of the Democratic Party of Proviso Township. He also served on the Hillside Library Board.
Now retired and living on Social Security and disability checks in Oak Park, Monaghan said he’s “running a poor man’s campaign for the poor.” If elected to Congress, he said he would work to eliminate tax breaks to corporations that outsource jobs and serve as a voice for veterans and their families.
He also said he would focus on bringing in federal programs that support low-income people and small businesses, though he couldn’t name any programs specifically.
Ira Cohen, director of issues and communications in Davis’ office, said, “I’m not greatly impressed by the idea that you should change because someone has been put in office for a long time,” Cohen said during an interview last week at Wallace’s Catfish Corner on Chicago’s West Side. “Change for what? To what? If somebody has a better idea of how to address the issues in this community, I know the congressman would like to hear it.”