Story URL:
Story Retrieval Date: 4/17/2015 12:24:43 PM CST

Top Stories

 Rebecca LaFlure/MEDILL  

District 7 congressional candidate John Monaghan runs his shoestring campaign out of Rose's Boutique in Oak Park.

Veteran runs a 'poor man's campaign for the poor' in District 7 congressional race

by Rebecca LaFlure
Oct 10, 2012


John Santore/MEDILL

Monaghan served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War and hopes to be a voice for veterans in Congress.

To describe John Monaghan as a long-shot candidate in Illinois’ 7th District race would be an understatement.

The political Independent faces well-known incumbent U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Chicago) in a district where Democrats are considered a shoo-in for public office. His 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?” Monaghan said. “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 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 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 for the diverse district that 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 long-time West Side resident Alex Beverly, who’s been charged 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 as 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, Monaghan joined the Air Force in 1966 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 got the wake-up call he needed. He enrolled in food service management classes at the College of DuPage.

Monaghan served another 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, from sales to the food industry to 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. 

He said that running as an Independent would allow him to more easily work with people on both sides of the aisle.


I can sit with Democrats and Republicans,” he said. “I don’t have any allegiance to anyone.”

Ira Cohen, director of issues and communications in Davis’ office, said he does not buy the idea that changing leadership would improve the endemic issues that plague many areas of the district.


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.”

So without any money or organized campaign to speak of, Monaghan is looking toward Election Day, hoping that voters also want a change, whatever that may be. 

“People are hungry for a shot,” Monaghan said. “They’re not getting a fair shot.”