Growing up in the Austin community Blake Sercye always knew he wanted to be involved in public service. Sercye saw the disparity of living in his blighted West Side community and the promise afforded him as a student at Fenwick High School in Oak Park. That tale of two cities sparked his political ambition.
"Just because you are a kid like me, born in 60651, doesn't mean you shouldn't have a chance to go on and get a good education," said Sercye, 26, an attorney with the law firm of Jenner and Block, 353 N. Clark St.
"There is no good reason why Austin at times looks a whole lot different … than Oak Park and I wanted to do anything to help with that," said the 2008 Princeton University graduates with a degree in political science.
That's why, at the age of 23, Sercye sought the Democratic nomination to fill the vacated 78th Representative District seat in 2010. Although the job eventually went to Camille Lilly, his political focus did not waiver.
Now with some experience under his belt, he has set his sights on the First District Cook County Commissioner race. Sercye is the first to publicly announce his candidacy for the post held by Commissioner Earlean Collins. Calls to Collins' office seeking comment on whether she'll seek a fifth term were not immediately returned.
Sercye says his decision to run arose from residents' concern about the lack of visible and effective leadership in the district. The First District spans the city's West Side and western suburbs, including Oak Park.
"This campaign is not at all about saying anything bad about past leadership," Sercye said. "I don't believe in negative politics. It turns people away from the democratic process and … I have a great deal of respect for Commissioner Collins."
But Sercye believes it's time for a "new generation of leadership" in the district, an idea he thinks is embraced by district residents. But he knows unseating an incumbent will not be easy.
"Running is not some knee-jerk reaction," he said. "This is a lifetime of preparation."
That preparation began in high school when he interned in 2003 under then Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn and again in 2006. It evolved while serving on the Local School Council at Austin Polytechnical High School and matured while working with the West Side NAACP. He gained more experience as a political director of Rahm Emanuel's 2011 mayoral election campaign and as a field coordinator for Quinn's 2010 gubernatorial campaign.
But Sercye hopes his work in the community, volunteering with Christ the King School's Young Leaders Council and Umoja, a youth development group out of Manley High School, will convince voters to take a chance on someone who is young but not new to the game.
"I think there are fewer people to convince than people might realize," he said.
Sercye further honed his skills when appointed in 2012 to the seven-member Illinois Medical District Commission by Quinn. The district is not a taxing body, but the board oversees development and zoning decisions for the 560-acre site on the near West Side.
He hopes to use his experience as IMD commissioner at the county level. The experience, he said, provided insight on the county's hospital systems and areas that need improving.
One such area is the issue of charity care, where hospitals get tax breaks for providing medical service to those who least can afford it. He said there have been concerns whether hospitals in the district actually provide that care.
"We need to have somebody on the Cook County Board who understands that issue," Sercye said.
He has been taking his case to the voters, hitting el stops and knocking on doors. He wants to streamline the often bloated county government by eliminating overlapping services but in an intelligent way.
He also wants to bring in the sheriff department to bolster patrols in areas that have seen a spike in crime and the county to devote more resources to youth restorative justice programs, plus sealing or expunging certain criminal records for ex-offenders.
"Sealing and expungement, long term, will play a critical role in reducing recidivism and diminishing crime," said Sercye, who has done pro bono work around that issue. "When people can get jobs … they are less likely to commit crimes."
Sercye is just beginning his climb up Chicago's political ladder, and he said it has been a learning experience. During his bid for the 78th District seat, he learned the importance of working with people, especially other elected officials.
"If there is anybody I can work with, I'm going to work with you," said Sercye, who obtained his law degree from the University of Chicago. "It's not about politics or me looking like I'm the smartest guy in the room. It is about me doing what I can for the First District."
For more information, visit http://www.friendsofblakesercye.com.
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