Austin native running for Cook County Commissioner

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Austin native Blake Sercye formally announced his candidacy for 1st District Cook County commissioner Saturday to a packed room of supporters at Sankofa Cultural Arts & Business Center.

The Swahili word “sankofa” means using resources of the past to move forward, which is what he plans to do if elected, Sercye said.

The 17 members of the Cook County Board of Commissioners set policies and ordinances at the county level. But Sercye, who is running as a Democrat and challenging incumbent Earlean Collins, said he thinks one of the biggest opportunities is to get city and county entities working together.

If local police worked with county police to find and use resources, it would help make the streets safer, he said.

He also wants to see the $6 million recently awarded to the Cook County Land Bank – designed to help rebuild communities affected by foreclosure – make it to the West Side.

Foreclosure is closely related to crime, said Sercye. “People don’t feel safe with boarded-up properties.”

He wants to see increased funding for job training and more sealing and expungement programs for rehabilitated individuals who struggle to get jobs or promotions because of their criminal records, he said.

The 26-year-old lawyer has lived in Austin his entire life. He attended St. John Lutheran Grammar School in Forest Park and Fenwick High School in Oak Park.

His mother, who has lived in Austin for 32 years, said Sercye has always been community oriented.

“He will not move outside his community. He’s always been grounded in Austin,” said Veada Sercye.

Even when he was earning his bachelor’s degree at Princeton University in New Jersey, he would still come home for every break, she said.

Sercye earned his law degree in 2011 from the University of Chicago and works as an associate at the law firm Jenner & Block, where he also does pro bono work representing people with fair housing and prisoner’s rights issues.

Sercye also volunteers for the Chicago West Side NAACP as chair of the legal redress committee, and since 2012, he’s served as a commissioner of the Illinois Medical District.

“People might be skeptical because of my age, but I’m young – not new.”

Sercye said he understands issues throughout his district, which includes Austin and parts of suburban Oak Park, Forest Park, Maywood and Bellwood.

Earlean Collins

Current 1st District Commissioner Collins said she has not decided whether to seek another four-year term.

But she noted in a brief interview Monday that she’s been winning political races for 40 years – even against the Daley “machine.”

Collins defeated three other Democrats in the 2010 primary with 47 percent of the vote before winning the general election by more than 50,000 votes, beating Green candidate Ronald Lawless.

If Collins does decide to run, Sercye will compete against her in the March 2014 primary election. She was first elected commissioner in 1998 after serving 20 years in the Illinois Senate.

But Sercye said he’s not concerned about who else runs. He said it’s time for a change in leadership, and he cares about the community and thinks working in government is a way to give back and make a difference.

Florence Rankin has lived on the same street as Sercye’s family for 35 years. She said she’s seen his dedication to the community since he was young and thinks he could be a blessing to everyone in the community if elected.

“He can bring more businesses into the area, a change in abandoned homes and some activities for young people,” said Rankin.

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