A great week for 1st District Cook County Board candidate Blake Sercye continued Saturday as Sercye easily won the endorsement of the Democratic Party of Oak Park (DPOP) at a hastily called endorsement session held Saturday morning at DPOP headquarters. The endorsement capped off a big week for the 27 year old Sercye that has made him a strong contender in the March 18 Democratic primary race.
Earlier in the week Sercye was endorsed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle who each committed to contributing or raising just over $50,000 to the Sercye campaign. On the very same day Wednesday Journal reported candidate Richard Boykin, who had been considered by many the favorite in the race, had taken multiple homestead property tax exemptions and that Boykin had supported Republican Mark Kirk in the 2010 Illinois Senate race.
Two of the five candidates in the 1st District race, Sercye and Oak Park resident Ron Lawless, appeared at the DPOP endorsement session held in the cramped community room at DPOP headquarters. Sercye and Lawless each spoke for about five minutes to about 30 DPOP members.
Boykin, a lawyer/lobbyist and a former chief of staff to Congressman Danny Davis, former 29th ward alderman Isaac "Ike" Carothers, and Brenda Smith did not show up for the endorsement session. State Senator Don Harmon, the Oak Park Township Democratic Committeeman who leads DPOP, said that Boykin and Carothers sent word that they had scheduling conflicts and could not make the endorsement session that was only announced on Thursday.
Just two weeks ago Harmon said that DPOP had decided not to endorse any candidate in the race because there was no consensus among members about which candidate to support.
But after Preckwinkle endorsed Sercye she asked Harmon if DPOP would endorse Sercye. Harmon decided to schedule the endorsement session.
"Toni has had a long standing relationship with the Democratic Party of Oak Park," Harmon said. "She is widely admired by our members and her endorsement speaks volumes."
In the discussion following the candidates' presentations former Oak Park Village President David Pope strongly defended Boykin countering those who had concerns about his multiple tax exemptions.
Pope said it was misleading to say, as Wednesday Journal reported, that Boykin had "claimed" multiple exemptions noting that Boykin only moved in his second Oak Park condominium last summer. Pope said the word claimed is an active verb and did not accurately reflect how Boykin obtained the tax exemptions.
"It's clearly not a case where he is trying to pull the wool over someone's eyes," Pope said. Pope also said that Boykin is separated from his wife and a home in Bolingbrook jointed owned by Boykin and his wife is part of the couple's "comingled assets."
"Richard's wife and son are residing there and nobody else resides there," Pope said.
"But other DPOP members weren't convinced and the motion to endorse Sercye was overwhelmingly approved by a voice vote.
"I'm having a problem with this, this is troublesome to me," said DPOP member Laura Perna referring to Boykin's homestead exemptions.
Other DPOP members were bothered by reports that Boykin's work for the Kirk campaign involved working on a "voter integrity" team which some equate to voter suppression attempts to reduce turnout among African-Americans.
"His campaigning for Kirk was probably more disturbing," said DPOP member Jerry Murray. "I was not impressed because he was the Congressman's chief of staff. I'm not sure if that was a positive or a negative. But the other things were just very disturbing."
Murray said that he was especially bothered by Boykin's work on "voter integrity."
"Those are code words," Murray said.
The DPOP endorsement will bring tangible benefits to Sercye, a third year associate at the law firm of Jenner & Block.
"We will include Blake on our sample ballot when we go door to door to get out the vote," Harmon said after the endorsement. "We will include his campaign literature. If we do a vote reminder, a door hanger or get out the vote phone calls, we'll urge people to vote for him."
Sercye said that he was thankful for the endorsement.
"I'm thankful for the support we received today from the Democratic Party of Oak Park," Sercye said after receiving the endorsement. "The Democratic Party of Oak Park is one of the strongest Democratic organizations in Cook County and our state."
Lawless, a community activist who ran for the County Board and lost four years ago as a Green Party candidate, was disappointed at not getting more support but said that he appreciated the kind words said about him by Harmon and DPOP co-chair Jerry Delaney. Lawless said that he was in the race to stay and would be soon be putting a large sum of his own money into his campaign.
"It could be up to $50,000," Lawless said. "Then if we need to go more we'll go more."
Lawless said that he thought Preckwinkle's endorsement of Sercye was the key factor in DPOP's endorsement.
"It was hard for me to overcome that based on their relationship, but at the end of the day I've always said endorsements don't win elections, people win elections," Lawless said. "We move forward. People have made a choice. I still say that I'm the independent candidate without any strings attached so it makes me even more motivated on behalf of the people and that's the endorsement that counts the most to me."
Harmon predicted that Sercye would win the March 18 primary.
"I think it's going to be tough campaign, but I think Blake's going to win," Harmon said.
After his big week that propelled him from a long shot to the hot candidate in the race Sercye was also feeling optimistic.
"Our race has picked up momentum at the right time," Sercye said. "We've peaked at the right time."