Four out of five Democratic candidates for the 1st District Cook County commissioner seat attended a campaign forum at the Oak Park Public Library, Feb. 25, sponsored by Wednesday Journal. Blake Sercye, left, Ronald Lawless, Isaac Carothers and Richard Boykin attended. Brenda Smith was absent. (DAVID PIERINI/Staff Photographer)

With just a week to go in the 1st District Cook County board race, big money is being spent with one candidate now airing broadcast and cable television ads which is unusual in a county board race. Candidate Richard Boykin, who most have considered the front runner in the race, has brought out his big gun with a television ad that began running in recent days. The ad featured Congressman Danny Davis extolling Boykin who served as Davis’s congressional chief of staff for nine years. In the ad Davis also takes a thinly veiled swipe at one of Boykin opponents, Blake Sercye, referring to Boykin’s “downtown opponent.”

Sercye, a 27 year old attorney at the law firm of Jenner & Block, has risen into contention in the last month on the back of endorsements by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White. He was also endorsed by the Democratic Party of Oak Park.

But the Boykin campaign maintains Sercye is not a real contender in the race. It is touting a poll taken by a Washington, D.C. based firm just after the joint Preckwinkle and Emanuel endorsement of Sercye that shows Boykin with a commanding lead. The poll, commissioned by the Boykin campaign, shows Boykin ahead with 34 percent of the vote with Sercye languishing in fourth place with just 10 percent of the vote. Former 29th ward alderman Isaac “Ike” Carothers is in second place in the poll with 15 percent. Brenda Smith, a former aide to Carothers and current aide to retiring commissioner Earlean Collins, is in third place with 13 percent in the poll and Oak Park activist Ron Lawless trails the field with just 6 percent of the vote. Still undecided in Boykin’s poll were 23 percent of respondents. According to the poll only 33 percent of voters had heard of Sercye and even among those voters Boykin led Sercye by four points.

The Boykin campaign says that the poll confirms what it has been saying all along, that the March 18 Democratic primary race will come down to Boykin versus Carothers.

“He’s in the best possible position to ensure that Ike Carothers doesn’t get elected,” said Hanah Jubeh, a senior advisor to the Boykin campaign. 

Carothers pled guilty to bribery charge in 2010 and was sentenced to 28 months in prison for accepting $40,000 in home improvements in return for backing a zoning change in his West Side ward. Carothers still has a strong base in the 29th ward and is being backed by 37th  ward Ald. Emma Mitts. He has the highest name recognition among the field. 

But the Boykin TV ad featuring Davis, and the veiled reference to Sercye and his backing from Emanuel, suggests that the Boykin campaign, despite what they say, is concerned about Sercye.  

Cash has been arriving in the Sercye campaign since the joint endorsement. Both Preckwinkle and Emanuel vowed to contribute or raise a little more than $50,000 each for Sercye. On Feb. 22 Preckwinkle’s campaign committee contributed $25,000 to the Sercye campaign.

The influx of money has allowed the Sercye campaign to spend heavily on direct mail. The campaign has sent out eight different direct mail pieces in the last few weeks. As of now the Sercye campaign has not run any radio or television ads.

“We have not run any TV ads,” said Igho Oraka, Sercye’s 28 year old campaign manager. “Right now our focus is getting our message out there through the mail and right now that’s what we’re working on. If TV becomes part of the plan we will certainly look into that.” 

Oraka said despite the recent influx of money the Sercye campaign is still a grassroots campaign.

“You don’t win on money, you win on votes,” Oraka said. “We’re doing the same thing that we did when we thought we were going to have a smaller budget. We’re knocking doors, we’re at train stations, we’re meeting people.”

In an effort to counter Sercye’s new financial resources Boykin, who is a lawyer/lobbyist and a partner in the law firm of Barnes & Thornburg, has put $75,000 of his own money into his campaign since Feb. 22 and he contributed another $10,000 to his campaign on Feb. 3. $25,000 of that money was in the form of a loan to his campaign.

“When you’re competing against some of the others who are giving some of his opponents money you have to do whatever you have to do in order to continue to get your message out,” Jubeh said. “Richard is standing on his record of decade long experience in the district.”

Lawless has also put a substantial sum of his own money into his campaign. Last month he contributed $50,000 to his campaign. Lawless, who ran against Collins in 2010 as the Green Party candidate, touts himself as the only true independent in the field and he hopes to pull out a big surprise in what is expected to be a very low turnout election.

“We’re going to be putting more money in,” Lawless said. “We’re doing a couple of mailers and we’re doing advertisements in the newspapers and for canvassing and Election Day operations. We’re putting the money on the street.”

Lawless said he expects to do well in higher turnout areas such as Oak Park and Forest Park.

State Senator Don Harmon of Oak Park believes the race will come down to Sercye and Boykin.

“Now I think it is a two person race, but those two people are Boykin and Sercye,” Harmon said. “I think it’s a Boykin-Sercye race, becoming a Sercye-Boykin race.”