Growing up in the Austin community Blake Sercye always knew he wanted to be involved in public service.
Sercye saw the disparity of living in his blighted West Side community and the promise afforded him as a student at Fenwick High School in Oak Park. That tale of two cities sparked his political ambition.
“Just because you are a kid like me, born in 60651, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a chance to go on and get a good education,” Sercye, 26, said. “There is no good reason why Austin at times looks a whole lot different than Oak Park, and I wanted to do anything to help with that.”
That’s why, at the age of 23, Sercye sought the Democratic nomination to fill the vacated 78th Representative District seat in 2010. Although the job eventually went to Camille Lilly, his political focus did not waiver.
Now with some experience under his belt, he has set his sights on the 1st District Cook County Commissioner race. Sercye, who’s an attorney with a Chicago law firm, is the first to publicly announce his candidacy to unseat Commissioner Earlean Collins. Calls to Collins’ office seeking comment on whether she’ll seek a fifth term were not immediately returned.
Sercye says his decision to run arose from residents’ concern about the lack of visible and effective leadership in the district. The 1st District spans the city’s West Side and western suburbs, including Oak Park.
“This campaign is not at all about saying anything bad about past leadership,” Sercye said. “I don’t believe in negative politics. It turns people away from the democratic process and…I have a great deal of respect for Commissioner Collins.”
But Sercye believes it’s time for a “new generation of leadership” in the district. It’s an idea he thinks is embraced by district residents, but he knows unseating an incumbent will not be easy.
“Running is not some knee-jerk reaction — this is a lifetime of preparation,” said the 2008 Princeton grad.
That preparation began in high school when he interned in 2003 under then-Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn and again in 2006. It evolved while serving on the Local School Council at Austin Polytechnical High School and matured while working with the Westside Branch NAACP. He gained more experience as a political director of Rahm Emanuel’s 2011 mayoral election campaign, as well as a field coordinator for Quinn’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign.
But Sercye hopes his work in the community — including volunteering with Christ the King School’s Young Leaders Council and with Umoja, a youth development group out of Manley High School— will convince voters to take a chance on someone knew.
“I think there are fewer people to convince than people might realize,” he said.
Sercye further honed his skills when appointed in 2012 to the seven-member Illinois Medical District Commission by Quinn.
Though not a taxing body, the board oversees development and zoning decisions for the 560-acre district on the near West Side.
He hopes to utilize that experience at the county level.
The experience, he said, provided insight on the county’s hospital systems and areas that need improving. One such area is charity care, where hospitals get tax breaks for providing medical service to those who least can afford it. Sercye noted community concerns as to whether hospitals in the district actually provide that care.
“We need to have somebody on the Cook County Board who understands that issue,” he said.
Sercye has been taking his case to the voters, hitting el stops and knocking on doors. He wants to streamline the often bloated county government by eliminating overlapping services but in an intelligent way.
He also wants to bring in the sheriff department to bolster patrols in high-crime areas and devote more resources to youth restorative justice programs. Sealing, or expunging, certain criminal records for ex-offenders is another of his priorities.
Sercye, who obtained his law degree from the University of Chicago, is just beginning his climb up Chicago’s political ladder; he says it’s been a learning experience. During his bid for the 78th District seat, he learned the importance of working with people, especially other elected officials.
“If there is anybody I can work with, I’m going to work with you,” Sercye said. “It’s not about politics or me looking like I’m the smartest guy in the room. It is about me doing what I can for the 1st District.”