Up until a few weeks ago, many believed the five-candidate race for 1st District Cook County commissioner would boil down to two contenders: ex-Ald. Isaac “Ike” Carothers and former congressional staffer Richard Boykin.
But then Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced they were endorsing a third candidate on the March 18 Democratic ballot — 27-year-old Blake Sercye.
Support from two of the area’s top political heavyweights have some predicting Sercye has a stronger chance to replace retiring Commissioner Earlean Collins.
Dick Simpson, a political science professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago and former Chicago alderman, said Sercye has a good shot at winning the Democratic nomination Tuesday.
“I don’t think he’ll be a traditional machine politician like (Ike) Carothers,” Simpson said. “I do think if elected, he’ll tend to support Preckwinkle’s policies.”
Preckwinkle made it clear at a Feb. 18 press conference, with Mayor Emanuel standing nearby, why she’s not supporting Carothers.
The 11-year alderman pleaded guilty in 2010 to corruption stemming from his time leading the 29th Ward and served two years in prison.
While noting she believes in second chances, Preckwinkle said, “I also believe that abusing trust, the public trust, taking bribes and misusing tax dollars should disqualify you from holding elective office again.”
Of Seryce, she said, “He’s a man of integrity, he’s committed to reform, and he cares deeply about improving the community where he was born and raised and lives today.”
The first-time candidate grew up in Austin, leaving only to attend Princeton University. Since graduating from the University of Chicago Law School, he’s worked as an attorney for Jenner & Block law firm.
Raised by a single mom, Sercye makes a point on the campaign trail to stress his longstanding roots to Chicago’s most-populated community.
He said he wants to help redevelop Austin and show children that you can succeed and still stay true to where you came from.
He told Chicago Sun-Times columnist Laura Washington he wants to help ensure he won’t be the exception in a neighborhood that’s seen more than its share of struggles.
Seryce has had his own challenges. Washington reports that his older brother, who was severely learning disabled, died of a blood clot at 22, and a 15-year-old cousin was shot to death while playing basketball.
“I want to give back to the neighborhood where I was raised,” Sercye said. “I understand the issues better than my opponents.”
Those issues include prisoner rights, having handled pro-bono cases, and addressing the longstanding problem of overcrowding at the Cook County Jail.
“We have to better coordinate the services we offer between the city and county to prevent incarceration.”
At a candidate forum last month, Sercye said he wants to reduce the jail population by helping low-income, non-violent offenders pay their bonds and be released on electronic monitoring.
If elected, he said he would try to work with organizations like Bethel New Life to get ex-cons jobs and help them turn away from a life of crime.
Seryce would also like to see state lawmakers approve a progressive income tax; the state has a 5 income percent tax that all residents pay regardless of how much they earn. The wealthiest taxpayers should pay a greater share of their income, he said
“I don’t think someone who makes $1 million a year should pay the same (percent) as someone who makes $40,000 a year.”
Another focus would be making sure all county residents have adequate health care: “I want people to get the care they deserve,” he said.
And Sercye wants to tackle the issue of abandoned properties, a pervasive problem throughout the 1st District.
“Solving the issue of foreclosure is one of my major priorities.”
Though this is his first run for elected office, he’s not a newcomer to politics, having served as political director for Emanuel’s 2011 mayoral campaign. And Gov. Pat Quinn appointed Sercye to the Illinois Medical District Commission in 2012.
While serving on the medical commission (he’s now treasurer), Sercye said he’s worked to promote land development and economic growth throughout the county.
“I’ve built relationships with people throughout the city.”
Seryce has out-raised three of his four opponents, reporting about $177,000 in campaign contributions – with $52,500 of that coming from Preckwinkle’s political action committee. The mayor has pledged to contribute or help raise another $50,000.
Only Boykin, a former chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, reports raising more: close to $300,000, with about $100,000 coming from Boykin himself.
Sercye has won the backing of multiple media outlets, including the Austin Weekly News, the Oak Park Wednesday Journal and earlier this week, the Chicago Tribune, which said, “Sercye, a young man with a bright future, is best.”
Telephone number: (708) 406-9410
Campaign headquarters: 1100 Lake St., Suite 100C Oak Park 60301
Candidate questionnaires completed for the Chicago Tribune.