Blake Sercye dominated Oak Park and Forest Park, but Richard Boykin did well enough elsewhere to win the expensive and hard fought Cook County Board Democratic primary race in the 1st District on March 18. At this point Boykin faces no opposition in the general election and is poised to succeed the retiring commissioner Earlean Collins.
Sercye, who was endorsed by state senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) and the Democratic Party of Oak Park (DPOP) as well as County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, won Oak Park big, capturing an impressive 59 percent of the vote in a five candidate field. Sercye clobbered Boykin by a nearly three to one margin in Oak Park. Boykin received 21 percent of the vote in the village.
Sercye also carried Forest Park decisively, capturing 39 percent of the vote there compared to Boykin's 27 percent.
But Sercye faltered in the rest of the district running behind not only Boykin, but former 29th ward alderman Isaac "Ike" Carothers and Brenda Smith, a current aide to Collins and a former aide to Carothers.
Boykin won the race by piling up big margins in Proviso Township outside of Forest Park and running close to Carothers on the West Side.
Harmon said Sercye was gaining momentum as Election Day neared. "He gained a tremendous amount of support in a short period of time. If he had continued on the same trajectory for another week I think he would have been able to overcome the narrow margin by which he lost." Harmon went on though to congratulate Boykin. "I think Richard will be a good commissioner for Oak Park."
With 99 percent of precincts reporting Boykin received 7,104 votes which was 30.6 percent of the votes cast. Sercye finished second overall with 5,987 votes or 25.8 percent. Carothers, who won the city portion of the district, finished third with 22.9 percent of the vote. Smith finished fourth with 17.1 percent and Oak Park activist Ron Lawless could only manage to win 843 votes, for 3.6 percent of the vote despite putting $50,000 of his own money on his campaign.
Boykin, a 45 year old resident of Oak Park, is a lawyer/lobbyist and a partner in the law firm of Barnes & Thornburg. He served as the chief of staff to Congressman Danny Davis (D-Chicago) for nine years. Davis pushed hard for Boykin.
Boykin supporters were jubilant at their victory party in a ballroom at the Carleton Hotel.
"We beat the county board president and also City Hall," said Boykin campaign chairman, Dr. Willie Wilson.
Davis was also beaming as he entered the room ahead of Boykin.
Former Oak Park Village President David Pope, Boykin's most prominent Oak Park supporter, was on stage with other dignitaries as Davis introduced Boykin to the happy crowd.
"I've been in Oak Park a lot of times, but David I don't know if I ever felt as good as this," Davis said.
Boykin, who speaks in a deliberate baritone and is also a minister, thanked Pope in his victory speech.
"David, I don't know what the numbers look like, but my team tells me we didn't lose Oak Park too bad," Boykin said. "I got a feeling we didn't lose Oak Park too bad because of you."
In reality by any measure losing Oak Park by a three to one margin in a five person race is losing very badly but the 1,027 votes Boykin picked up in Oak Park were important to his victory.
"We weren't going to cede any territory," said Boykin campaign manager Hanah Jubeh. "We worked Oak Park to the very end."
Boykin credited Pope for persuading him to campaign at el stations.
"The train stations were David Pope's idea," Boykin said in his victory speech.
Oak Park village trustees Adam Salzman and Bob Tucker also supported Boykin and came to the Carleton to celebrate with the winner.
Boykin won the race in Maywood, Broadview and Bellwood where he piled up big margins and Sercye did poorly. In Proviso Township as whole, including Forest Park, Boykin won 42.07 percent of the vote. Sercye, because of his strength in Forest Park, ran second in Proviso Township with 18.67 percent of the vote, just nine votes ahead of Smith. Excluding Forest Park both Smith and Carothers outperformed Sercye in Proviso Township.
"I want to thank Proviso Township," Boykin said in his victory speech. "The suburbs were pretty good to us, especially out in Proviso."
In Proviso Township Boykin benefited from the support of Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarborough and the Proviso Township Democratic Organization. State Representative Emanuel Chris Welch also backed Boykin.
Boykin credited his get out the vote effort for his victory.
"We had a great ground game today," Boykin said. "We got voters out despite a low voter turnout."
Money didn't hurt either.
The Boykin campaign spent more than $300,000 in the race, much more than any other candidate. The candidates combined to spend more than $500,000 on the race making it one of the most expensive county board commissioner races ever.
Boykin ran a few television ads featuring Davis on local news programs in the final weeks of the campaign. Boykin gave more than $100,000 of his own money to his campaign stepping up the pace of his personal contributions after Preckwinkle and Emanuel vowed to raise or contribute $52,000 each to Sercye after endorsing him in late February.
The late cash infusion for Sercye fueled an aggressive direct mail campaign that attacked Boykin harshly. In the last month of the campaign Sercye also received help from Tom Bowen an experienced campaign operative who has close ties to Emanuel. Bowen was the deputy campaign manager for Emanuel's mayoral campaign, ran Forrest Claypool's unsuccessful County Board president campaign in 2006 and served as the campaign manager last year during Bill Daley's short lived campaign for governor.
Sercye, a 27 year old associate at the law firm of Jenner & Block who grew up in Austin, had great appeal in Oak Park. His compelling personal story, raised by a single parent educated at Fenwick, Princeton, and the University of Chicago Law School, his intelligence, passion and his progressive stands on issues all appealed to Oak Parkers reminding some of another young candidate who was a big hit in Oak Park.
"It made me do a flashback to 2012, the Obama campaign," said Jerry Delaney, the chairwoman of DPOP at the Sercye Election night gathering at Maya del Sol. "How in a mid-term primary do you get those kind of committed, really intense volunteers who just believe so much in the progressive candidates that the Democratic Party (of Oak Park) endorses. It's like a sense of family almost that these people keep coming back no matter what we ask them for, because they so believe in these people. I didn't think people would come. This isn't Obama. Who was Blake Sercye and as soon as they started getting a sense of him they were in. I don't think that happens that often to have that kind of grass roots volunteers and I think that's unique to DPOP. I'm very proud of that."
Sercye said that he believed the issues that he raised during the campaign would endure.
"The things that we pushed for in this race are going to matter to the next county commissioner because we made them issues," Sercye said. "We made transparency, accountability, ethics, issues in this race so we know that those are things that we know our next commissioner is going to have to take into account."