Thursday, September 8, 2016 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
Jeffrey Leef, a resident of nearby River Forest and a University of Chicago radiologist, is an untypical candidate in an untypical election year. The lifelong Republican will be on the Nov. 8 ballot to challenge longtime 7th District Congressman Danny K. Davis, because, Leef said, the people deserve a choice.
“I didn’t get into this until after this past primary,” said Leef, whose candidacy was challenged earlier this summer by Chicago Republican Committeewoman Fran Sapone. Sapone was ousted by the Cook County Republican Party for her support for numerous Democratic elected officials.
“I went into the primary to vote and I saw all these positions where it was just one person running and I’m like, ‘This just isn’t right. I think there are a couple of things people can agree on, no matter their party affiliation. One is that, at the very least, we’re a two-party system and we have to take advantage of that. There really should be two people running. I really felt strongly about that.”
Leef’s candidacy may be sanctioned by county Republicans, but during a recent phone interview, the 55-year-old political novice talked at times like an independent or an idealist running on symbolism.
Leef said that he believes senators and congressmen should have term limits, the absence of which, he argued, has promoted dysfunction and complacency in Washington. He also railed against the tendency, which he said is rampant in both parties, to redraw legislative maps to create districts that are more favorable to candidates on their side.
“Gerrymandering occurs in whatever party is strongest in the state, but the way the 7th District and the 4th District are drawn,” Leef said, “is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen.”
Leef said he’s suggesting that anyone who wants to donate to his campaign instead give the money to Opportunity Knocks, an Oak Park-based nonprofit that services people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“I absolutely want to win,” Leef said, when asked if, considering that strategy, he intended on seriously competing against Davis, who had more than $341,000 in available cash as of last month, according to opensecrets.org. A search through State Board of Elections records reveal no contributions to Leef’s candidacy.
“I still think that at the local level, people can make a difference,” said Leef. “I think there’s more we can do. Locally is where things need to start. Am I the underdog? That’s an understatement. Running against any incumbent is an uphill battle.”
Leef describes himself as a fiscal conservative who is socially liberal. He said he’s believed in gay marriage since high school.
“There are conservative Republicans who refer to me as a RINO,” he said. “A Republican in Name Only.”
On gun control, Leef said, he isn’t necessarily opposed to tougher regulations, which puts him closer to his Democratic challenger than to many of those in his party.
“The bottom line is there are children dying, period,” Leef said, before also noting that Chicago’s deep history of segregation factors into why “there is so much anger in impoverished communities.”
Where he may be most untypical is in his sharp contrast to the Republican looming over him at the top of the ticket.
“This is the first time in my voting life that, sadly, I cannot vote for president,” Leef said. “I cannot vote for Clinton or Trump. I’m not going to compare myself to him in any way. There’s no way I’d vote for him.”
Leef said the central theme of his campaign is education, adding that he would advocate for market-based education policies, such as a school voucher system. He also lambasted Davis for taking contributions from numerous teachers’ unions.
When reached for comment, Davis offered Leef his blessings, but declined to speak about his Republican challenger in more detail. VFP