Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (D-1st), a resident of Oak Park, is considering a run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Republican Sen. Mark Kirk. News of the announcement was first reported by Chicago Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed in an Aug. 5 column.
Boykin will announce the creation of an exploratory committee tomorrow and launch a state-wide listening tour that will last throughout August. He said he’ll make an official decision on whether or not to enter the race by Labor Day — roughly a month from now.
Boykin, who has served as a county commissioner for less than a year, told Wednesday Journal that he was inspired to consider a 2016 senate run after fielding phone calls, emails and letters in support of the decision “from people as far away as East St. Louis.”
He said none of the current Democratic candidates for the seat — including former Chicago League CEO and Chicago Public School (CPS) board member Andrea Zopp and U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-8th) — have exhibited the kind of leadership necessary to deal with the issues affecting ordinary people.
“The issues of ordinary people — of public safety, gun violence, the economy — must be addressed in this senate race,” Boykin said. “In parts of my district, unemployment levels are reaching Great Depression levels, so we got to make sure these issues are being talked about.
” I know Tammy and Andrea. They’re fine people. But I think when you delve deep down into their leadership, there’s a lot lacking.”
Boykin criticized Zopp, in particular, for her role as a CPS board member in closing 50 neighborhood schools and granting controversial no-bid contracts.
“We know [Zopp] voted to close 50 schools, primarily in black and Hispanic communities,” Boykin said. “We know she voted on a number of no-bid contracts where people benefited from those contracts. We also know she left the finances of CPS in shambles and that, right now, they’re nearly bankrupt.”
Boykin, an attorney and lobbyist by trade, got his start in politics as a staff member for U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-7th). He eventually rose to become Davis’ chief of staff. Davis was one of Boykin’s biggest supporters when the protégé campaigned for a seat on the Cook County Board of Commissioners last year. Boykin said he’s received Davis’ blessing to explore a possible senate run.
Businessman Willie Wilson, then a relatively obscure philanthropist, media personality and entrepreneur, was the chairperson — and a major bankroller — of Boykin’s campaign.
Wilson unsuccessfully campaigned for mayor of Chicago earlier this year, but his better-than-expected performance in that race established his bona fides as a local political heavyweight, especially among African-American voters in the area.
In June, Wilson announced his candidacy for president of the United States in the upcoming 2016 election.
When asked why he was running so soon after being elected commissioner, Boykin said he’s confident that he can both campaign and govern and that “there’s nothing wrong with gauging voter sentiment.”
He also touted his accomplishments while on the board, including fighting against a sales tax increase and for mental health funding, among other things.
“In eight months on the Cook County board, I think people have been very pleased at what we’ve been able to do,” Boykin said.
If Boykin does decide to run, and if he eventually earns the Democratic nomination, he would be campaigning to unseat an erstwhile ally. Boykin supported Kirk’s 2010 senate campaign against Democratic nominee Alexi Giannoulias, who was endorsed by President Barack Obama.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics’s Open Secrets website, as an attorney and lobbyist with the firm Barnes & Thornburg, Boykin contributed $8,500 to Mark Kirk between 2009 and 2012. And in October 2010, Boykin moderated an education program featuring then-Congressman Kirk at Chicago State University — roughly a month before the November 2 election, in which Kirk defeated Giannoulias.
Open Secrets notes that Boykin has lobbied for Chicago State University since at least 2011; and that, since 2001, the school has spent $80,000 with Barnes & Thornburg for lobbying services.
During his bid for a seat on the county board, Boykin took some heat from various challengers for his relationship with Kirk. At the time, Boykin described Kirk as “a good friend of mine for a number of years,” according to a Wednesday Journal report. Boykin also touted his relationship with both Democrats and Republicans, noting that he had “supported more Democrats” over the years.
“I’m proud to be a lifelong and loyal Democrat. In the work that we do you need to bring everybody together from both sides. I think part of the problem in Washington right now is that you have so much partisanship,” he said, before touting his ability to leverage his close relationship with both of the state’s sitting senators in order to “get things done.”
“I’m the only candidate in this race who can call a Democratic senator and get my call returned and call the Republican senator from the state of Illinois and get my call returned.”
Kirk, who suffered a stroke in 2012, has recently come under fire for statements he’s made and positions he’s taken. Kirk was forced to apologize after his description of unmarried South Carolina senator and current presidential candidate Lindsey Graham as a “bro with no ho” was picked up by a live microphone.
He’s also come under fire in his own party for breaking ranks and defending the Planned Parenthood organization.
When asked if Kirk’s apparent vulnerability had anything to do with his consideration to run, Boykin said, “I haven’t looked at Kirk.”
He instead focused the majority of his criticisms on his would-be Democratic challengers.
“I’ve looked at the people and what the people’s needs are,” Boykin said. “Neither one of these candidates did a listening tour. [Zopp and Duckworth] jumped in with their political bosses. … The people deserve a voice in this process [not just] elite corporate board rooms and political bosses.”