All five candidates for 1st District Cook County Commissioner primary race faced off Saturday, February 22, 2014, at the Maywood Public Library for the Think Democracy Candidates Forum. The forum was sponsored by The Village Free Press, Forest Park Review, Neighbors of Maywood Community Organization (NOMCO) and other community organizations.
The five candidates were former 29th ward alderman Isaac “Ike” Carothers; attorney Blake Sercye; attorney and lobbyist Richard Boykin; educator and consultant Ronald Lawless, and community activist Brenda Smith. This was the first forum in which Smith has participated.
Many of the same issues, such as the County Land Bank, taxation and the budget, were brought up by all five candidates.
The difference on Saturday was that, with the Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle endorsing 27-year-old attorney Blake Sercye, the dynamics of this race have changed. What many may have considered a two-man duel between Carothers and Boykin has turned into a race of three.
Carothers, who carries the baggage of 2010 corruption charges, to which he pleaded guilty in exchange for a 28-month prison term, urged attendees to look at his record of achievements while an alderman in the 29th ward. Among the achievements he touted were a new school and a senior housing complex.
“I’d like to provide the same leadership I provided for the 29th ward,” he said.
Smith heralded her status as the only female on the ballot and stressed that as commissioner, “excellent service” would be her priority.
“I’m Richard Boykin–unbought, unbossed and unafraid,” said Boykin, in what sounded like a rhetorical pivot following the Emanuel-Preckwinkle endorsements.
During a February 18, press conference, Preckwinkle said that she and Mayor Emanuel plan to pull no punches in helping Sercye get elected–even to the point of pledging to commit more than $50,000 each to his campaign. The development seems to have motivated Sercye’s opponents to overplay the underdog card.
“You have a clear choice on March 18,” said Boykin, Congressman Danny K. Davis’s former chief of staff, during his closing statement. “You can go with the machine or the people’s candidate.”
Funds Preckwinkle pledged have yet to fully materialize according to sources inside the Sercye campaign and public records show Boykin has a clear fundraising advantage. Yet that still hasn’t stopped Boykin and Sercye’s other opponents from painting him as the puppet candidate of forces bigger than himself. A Manchurian candidate, of sorts.
During his opening comments, Sercye didn’t directly address the backlash surrounding the endorsements. Instead he talked about his personal story as the son of a single mother who was able to go to Princeton. He framed himself as an honest alternative to his older opponents.
“I can talk until I’m blue in the face about policy, but what matters most is a commissioner who you know is ethical and trustworthy,” said Sercye in what may have been a subtle reference particularly to Carothers’s corruption charges and questions regarding Boykin’s official residency and his acceptance of multiple homestead exemptions.
Lawless was the first candidate to explicitly bring up the endorsements, when he said during his opening comments that endorsements don’t win elections–people do. And people, said Lawless, appear to have had it with Mayor Emanuel, a claim that, if true could turn a major endorsement into a major liability for Sercye.
“I’m the only candidate who has the people’s endorsement,” said Lawless. “You have to be true to yourself… anyone who will close 50 schools in Chicago is not a friend of mine and he’s not a friend of yours … if [Emanuel] got his city right, he wouldn’t have to worry about the county.”
Carothers said he didn’t understand Emanuel’s reasoning for getting involved in a county race, since his jurisdiction is the City of Chicago.
“Why aren’t they [Emanuel and Preckwinkle] endorsing all those other races that are down ballot?” Carothers asked.
Since he landed those major endorsements, it’s been a common complaint lodged by Sercye’s opponents that his campaign is now being bankrolled by interloping heavy-hitters bent on pulling the West Side and the western suburbs into their sphere of influence.
“We have nothing against Mr. Sercye,” said Rev. Ira Acree, pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin and a supporter of Boykin at a Boykin campaign press conference held on the same day of the Emanuel-Preckwinkle announcement. “But we do resent when the Mayor sits in his ivory tower and tries to select our leadership. You have too much of this already. The previous mayor [Richard Daley] picked his aldermen and councilmen. Madigan picks his state representatives.”
Coming from Carothers, once one of the most powerful political figures in Chicago, and Boykin, the establishment frontrunner, seemed rather odd, to Lawless. He humorously incorporated it into his closing comments.
“Last week, I was the only people’s candidate,” Lawless said. “Now we have three people’s candidates … Rahm has shifted everybody.” VFP
Full video and more in-depth coverage from this event will be available soon.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014, CHICAGO || By Michael Romain
In what may turn out to be a pivotal turning point in the race for First District Cook County Commissioner, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Alderman Jason Ervin (28th ward), Alderman Joe Moreno (1st ward) and Oak Park President Anan Abu-Taleb all gathered for a press conference downtown at the Union League Club today to endorse Blake Sercye.
Sercye, 27, is an associate at the law firm Jenner & Block LLP and sits on the Illinois Medical District Commission, a position to which he was reappointed in October of last year by Gov. Pat Quinn.
At the press conference, Board President Preckwinkle stated that both she and Mayor Emanuel are prepared to contribute $52,500 each (the maximum spending limit) to ensure that Mr. Sercye is elected over former 29th ward alderman Isaac “Ike” Carothers and Richard Boykin, Congressman Danny K. Davis’s former Chief-of-Staff. Both Mr. Carothers and Mr. Boykin have been considered, by some accounts, to be the front-runners in the race.
“I believe in second chances,” Preckwinkle said. “I believe those who are convicted of crimes can have second acts in life. I very much hope that is true for former Ald. Ike Carothers. I also believe that abusing trust, the public trust, taking bribes and misusing tax dollars should disqualify you from holding elected office again. This is the law for the city of Chicago, and it should be the law for Cook County as well.
“The good news is that residents of the diverse communities comprising the 1st District — including Austin, Oak Park, Maywood Bellwood and Broadview — have a wonderful alternative in Blake Sercye to vote for on March 18,” said Preckwinkle.
“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.
Oak Park President Anan Abu-Taleb went on the record to renounce his previous endorsement of Boykin, although the nature and degree of that prior endorsement is still in question.
When asked whether or not he would renounce his endorsement of Boykin, Abu-Taleb said, “Yes, I will.”
However, in response to a follow-up inquiry into whether or not he’d switched to Sercye, Abu Taleb said, “I didn’t really switch. I never committed to Boykin.”
This is despite the fact that, as of today, the Boykin campaign website lists Abu-Taleb among the elected officials who have endorsed him. Neither Mr. Abu-Taleb or the Boykin campaign could be reached for comment.
Earlier today, Mr. Boykin held his own press conference at a prayer breakfast at his home church of Rock of Ages in Maywood to announce the endorsements of his pastor of eight years, Reverend Marvin E. Wiley; Bishop Claude Porter, pastor of Proviso Baptist Church in Maywood; and Rev. Marshall Hatch of the New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago; among other area clergy.
Boykin responded to the Emanuel-Preckwinkle dual endorsement by saying that he perceives it as an attempt by the two to split the anti-Carothers contingent of the race, thus bolstering Mr. Carothers’ chances.
“Look, I know what they’re doing,” said Mr. Boykin. “This helps nobody but Carothers. They know that. They’re not new to politics…but the reality is that we’re going to win this race. The decisions they make are theirs, but they understand the ramifications, which are to split the community and split the vote.”
Rev. Ira Acree, the pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin and a Boykin supporter, said that the Emanuel-Preckwinkle endorsement was another instance of political powerhouses asserting themselves into the local political process.
“We have nothing against Mr. Sercye,” said Rev. Acree, “but we do resent when the Mayor sits in his ivory tower and tries to select our leadership. You have too much of this already. The previous mayor [Richard Daley] picked his aldermen and councilmen. Madigan picks his state representatives. If we’re going to turn the tide in our urban cities–this needs to stop.”
When asked whether or not the endorsements of two of the most powerful political figures in the State would affect his independence of mind, Mr. Sercye noted that, when he began the race, it was outside of the glare of the cameras.
“I didn’t start this race with their support,” he said. “I started alone.”
Mr. Sercye said that he does support President Preckwinkle’s and Mayor Emanuel’s tough, reform-minded policy decisions in the areas of government ethics, transparency and the budget.
“I hope to follow in these two leaders’ footsteps,” he said. VFP
This article has been updated to account for errors made in the original version, which listed the 28th ward as the one represented by former alderman Isaac “Ike” Carothers, and described the sitting president of Oak Park, Anan Abu-Taleb, as the former president of that town. Mr. Carothers formerly represented the 29th ward.