Richard Boykin greets supporters at the Carleton Hotel in Oak Park after unofficial totals showed he had won a five-way race for the District 1 seat on the Cook County Board of Commissioners. (David Pierini/staff photographer)

Blake Sercye dominated Forest Park and  Oak Park, but Richard Boykin did well enough elsewhere to win the expensive and hard fought Cook County Board Democratic primary race in the 1st District on March 18. At this point Boykin faces no opposition in the general election and is poised to succeed the retiring commissioner Earlean Collins.

Sercye, who was endorsed by state senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) and the Democratic Party of Oak Park (DPOP) as well as County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, carried Forest Park decisively, capturing 39 percent of the vote here compared to Boykin’s 27 percent. He also won Oak Park big, capturing an impressive 59 percent of the vote in a five candidate field. Sercye clobbered Boykin by a nearly three to one margin in Oak Park. Boykin received 21 percent of the vote in the village.  

But Sercye faltered in the rest of the district running behind not only Boykin, but former 29th ward alderman Isaac “Ike” Carothers and Brenda Smith, a current aide to Collins and a former aide to Carothers.

Boykin won the race by piling up big margins in Proviso Township outside of Forest Park and running close to Carothers on the West Side. 

Harmon said Sercye was gaining momentum as Election Day neared. “He gained a tremendous amount of support in a short period of time. If he had continued on the same trajectory for another week I think he would have been able to overcome the narrow margin by which he lost.” 

With 99 percent of precincts reporting Boykin received 7,104 votes which was 30.6 percent of the votes cast. Sercye finished second overall with 5,987 votes or 25.8 percent. Carothers, who won the city portion of the district, finished third with 22.9 percent of the vote. Smith finished fourth with 17.1 percent and Oak Park activist Ron Lawless could only manage to win 843 votes, for 3.6 percent of the vote despite putting $50,000 of his own money on his campaign.

Boykin, a 45 year old resident of Oak Park, is a lawyer/lobbyist and a partner in the law firm of Barnes & Thornburg. He served as the chief of staff to Congressman Danny Davis (D-Chicago) for nine years. Davis pushed hard for Boykin. 

Boykin supporters were jubilant at their victory party in a ballroom at the Carleton Hotel.

“We beat the county board president and also City Hall,” said Boykin campaign chairman, Dr. Willie Wilson.   

Davis was also beaming as he entered the room ahead of Boykin.

Boykin won the race in Maywood, Broadview and Bellwood where he piled up big margins and Sercye did poorly. In Proviso Township as whole, including Forest Park, Boykin won 42.07 percent of the vote. Sercye, because of his strength in Forest Park, ran second in Proviso Township with 18.67 percent of the vote, just nine votes ahead of Smith. Excluding Forest Park both Smith and Carothers outperformed Sercye in Proviso Township.

“I want to thank Proviso Township,” Boykin said in his victory speech. “The suburbs were pretty good to us, especially out in Proviso.” 

In Proviso Township Boykin benefited from the support of Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarborough and the Proviso Township Democratic Organization. State Representative Emanuel Chris Welch also backed Boykin.

Boykin credited his get out the vote effort for his victory.

“We had a great ground game today,” Boykin said. “We got voters out despite a low voter turnout.”

Money didn’t hurt either.

The Boykin campaign spent more than $300,000 in the race, much more than any other candidate. The candidates combined to spend more than $500,000 on the race making it one of the most expensive county board commissioner races ever.

Boykin ran a few television ads featuring Davis on local news programs in the final weeks of the campaign. Boykin gave more than $100,000 of his own money to his campaign stepping up the pace of his personal contributions after Preckwinkle and Emanuel vowed to raise or contribute $52,000 each to Sercye after endorsing him in late February. 

Boykin emphasized crime and economic development in his campaign.

“I cannot wait to get to work to make this a better community, to make those streets safe and to bring job opportunities and to lower property taxes and to keep sales taxes where they are or lower,” Boykin told the crowd in his victory speech.

Boykin was attacked in the campaign for supporting Republican Mark Kirk in the 2010 Senate race and for making a few contributions to other Republican office holders. 

Boykin made no apologies for that in his acceptance speech.

“We’re looking forward to working with everybody whether they’re Republican or Democrat,” Boykin said. “We’re going to work with everybody because the 1st District is just too important not to work with other people.”

The late cash infusion for Sercye fueled an aggressive direct mail campaign that attacked Boykin harshly.  In the last month of the campaign Sercye also received help from Tom Bowen an experienced campaign operative who has close ties to Emanuel. Bowen was the deputy campaign manager for Emanuel’s mayoral campaign, ran Forrest Claypool’s unsuccessful County Board president campaign in 2006 and served as the campaign manager last year during Bill Daley’s short lived campaign for governor.

Sercye said that he believed the issues that he raised during the campaign would endure.

“The things that we pushed for in this race are going to matter to the next county commissioner because we made them issues,” Sercye said. “We made transparency, accountability, ethics, issues in this race so we know that those are things that we know our next commissioner is going to have to take into account.”