Blake Sercye, one of five Democratic candidates for 1st District Cook County Board, collected five notable endorsements last week starting Tuesday when Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Mayor Rahm Emanuel forged an unusual pact and backed Sercye. On Saturday, abandoning plans to stay neutral in the primary, the Democratic Party of Oak Park strongly endorsed Sercye. And in between, Sercye picked up the support of Oak Park Village President Anan Abu-Taleb, who had previously been thought to support Richard Boykin, another contender.

For his part, Boykin touted the backing last week of 40 ministers from the West Side and Proviso Township including such influential names as Rev. Marshall Hatch of New Mount Pilgrim Church, Bishop Claude Porter of Proviso Leyden Township Council for Community Action and Rev. Marvin Wiley of Rock of Ages. Boykin has also been endorsed by David Pope, the former village president of Oak Park, and current trustees Bob Tucker and Adam Salzman.  

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. .

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 attend 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 Pope strongly defended Boykin countering those who had concerns about his multiple tax exemptions as first reported by Wednesday Journal.

Pope said it was misleading to say, as Wednesday Journal reported, that Boykin had “claimed” multiple exemptions noting that Boykin only moved in to 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.

Despite the backing Sercye received from Oak Park Democrats, Boykin issued a statement saying he will poll well in Oak Park. “We expect to do very well in Oak Park. Voters throughout the village have been responding well to our focus on cracking down on crime in our neighborhoods and our call for more transparency on the board of commissioners. … I’m looking forward to working with the Democratic Party of Oak Park as the Democratic nominee to ensure that the interests of Oak Park are fully represented.”

Boykin also touted results of a recent poll of 800 likely primary voters which, he said, showed him in the lead in the highly contested 5-person race. The poll, he said, was conducted by Capital Fax and We Ask America.

 “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.”

Coupled with their endorsements, both Preckwinkle and Emanuel pledged contributions of $52,000 each to Sercye’s campaign as well as other strategic support.

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.”

In her endorsement of Sercye, Preckwinkle acknowledged her strained relationship with candidate Ike Carothers while both served in the Chicago city council. “I believe in second chances,” said Preckwinkle. She said Carothers’s guilty plea on bribery and tax fraud charges should prevent him from running for office at the county level. Currently, Carothers is only prohibited from running at the citywide level.

Sercye is, “a wonderful alternative” to the former alderman, Preckwinkle said.

“Blake is the right guy, in the right time … to bring reform to county government,” said Emanuel, who noted that Sercye was one of the first hires made by his campaign team when he was running for mayor in 2010.

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