Richard Boykin

It is not often that a seat in the U.S. Senate shifts from the safe to the vulnerable column. But in a blue state like Illinois, any Republican, even one as moderate as Mark Kirk, can expect a direct challenge. Kirk has not helped himself lately with odd political and personal comments and there is no sense denying that, despite his brave comeback from a serious stroke, it has imperiled his position in 2016.

Enter Richard Boykin, the Oak Parker with his district office in Forest Park. We’d call him the still-new 1st District Cook County Commissioner. He was, after all, just sworn in as commissioner nine months ago. He’s been a whirlwind. Omnipresent in all parts of the district. Making headlines in the metros for his positions and his quote-ability on tough topics, such as black-on-black gun violence and opposition to Toni Preckwinkle’s sales tax hike. His call for charging urban shooters as domestic terrorists — part of a broader anti-violence platform — has also brought him some national TV time.

All pretty heady for a fellow with the dual bugs of political ambition and a gift for the pulpit — religious, secular and blended. 

The common wisdom has been that Richard Boykin was pre-ordained to succeed Cong. Danny Davis, our longtime 7th District representative. After all, Boykin had worked for a decade as a top staffer to Davis in Washington, the county’s 1st district is basically a mirror image of Davis’ congressional map, and Davis presumably would like his legacy honored by hand-picking a protégé to replace him when he steps down.

Seemingly that equation went sideways as Boykin’s star, at least his perception of his star, rose and the Kirk seat came into sharper relief when, among other bumps, a top GOP funder recently told Crain’s that Kirk ought to step out for a stronger Republican candidate. 

That would be the same Sen. Kirk whom lobbyist Boykin supported with $8,500 in campaign contributions between 2009 and 2012, the Review reported last week. 

In a steady drumbeat during his highly contested run for the Democratic nomination for the 1st District seat in early 2014, Boykin took a thumping for his declaration of bipartisanship and specifically for his donations to, and proclaimed friendship with, Kirk.

Of course, Boykin is not the only Democrat who has figured out Kirk’s seat could be up for grabs. Rep. Tammy Duckworth is giving up a safe seat in the House to take on Kirk. And Andrea Zopp, a heavily credentialed but more inside Democrat, has also announced. 

Boykin, it would seem, is counting on his immediate constituents to cut him some slack as he aims high. Having replaced the moribund Earlean Collins in the 1st District seat, Boykin will have two years to prove his local allegiance if the Kirk challenge goes poof. He will still have raised up his name for future consideration. 

And there is always the Danny Davis consolation prize.