Talked Monday afternoon to Richard Boykin. He had just wisely and inevitably conceded his re-election battle for the 1st District county board seat to Brandon Johnson, the chosen candidate of Toni Preckwinkle, Don Harmon and multiple unions.
It may have been just 436 votes out of 50,000 cast in the Democratic primary but when a week out the gap isn’t closing and the number of ballots left to count is dwindling, it is past time to be gracious and exit.
In a 20-minute interview, Boykin covered some emotional and political ground.
Starting with some bluster about the loss (“It’s not a problem. We’ve done some great work. If people don’t recognize it then …”) to some truth (“I’m sad, too. But life goes on”), Boykin said not to assume he will inevitably run for office again. He has a lucrative practice in law and lobbying and said there are “other ways to continue to make a contribution.”
Boykin, an Oak Parker, was candid when I asked if he was surprised that he had lost Oak Park — and by a lot, 2,100 votes. “I didn’t think [state Sen.] Don Harmon would choose not to back an incumbent. It took me by surprise.”
Harmon is also the Democratic Committeeman for Oak Park Township and simply followed the same path as four years ago when the Democratic Party of Oak Park backed Blake Sercye, a young lawyer, Fenwick grad, and the chosen candidate of both Toni Preckwinkle and Rahm Emanuel.
Sercye clocked Boykin in Oak Park in 2014. Johnson was simply following suit. “The number of other elected officials who backed Johnson surprised me,” Boykin said Monday.
But this is where Boykin has blind spots. He has a long and profound connection to Cong. Danny Davis, having served for years as his chief of staff. But beyond Davis, it is hard to find Boykin fans among the elected. The visceral dislike between Preckwinkle and Boykin, going way back before his first run, is something to behold. And in my multiple exchanges with each of them over the years, I’ve been surprised by how readily they acknowledge it. No effort to spin it.
And that was long before the trench warfare over the reimposition of a higher county sales tax, the lead role Boykin played in battling the pop tax, the months-long empty threat that Boykin would skip re-election to the county board and take on Preckwinkle directly.
Toni Preckwinkle was politically wounded in those fights, but this week she is far more than whole. Joe Berrios is gone and Preckwinkle is looking to consolidate control as she works to become the chief of the local Democratic party.
Boykin didn’t see this coming.
“I never really thought we were in trouble,” he said Monday. But then a last wave of union money began to roll in and a strong closing effort to call him out as a Republican had what he thinks was a decisive impact in a very close race.
I don’t know Brandon Johnson yet. And four years back the Journal endorsed Sercye over Boykin. Yes, there are moments when Richard Boykin is too full of himself. The “listening tour” of the state nine months into his term to discern an underwhelming call for him to run for the Senate was off-putting.
But I know for the interminable Earlean Collins era that Oak Park and Austin were not represented in a huge county government that is key to health care and criminal justice in these neighborhoods. I know Boykin changed that and fast. He was omnipresent in these communities from Garfield Park to Maywood and Bellwood. He brought real county resources home for the first time in forever.
Finally, most critically, he took on the profound and fully ignored catastrophe of gun violence in Chicago. When no one talked of this, when fear overtook any action, when we split in our racial divides, Boykin talked about guns and the real impact of those guns in communities we call home, on families we choose not to know.