Former CeaseFire director Tio Hardiman, who last month announced plans to run for Congress against Rep. Bobby Rush, has turned his attention to Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown.
Hardiman popped up Saturday at an endorsement session held by the Proviso Township Democratic organization and offered himself as a candidate for the clerk’s post.
The surprise move set off alarm bells in Cook County Democratic circles over the possibility Hardiman could cut into Brown’s support among African-American voters and improve the chances of another challenger, Chicago lawyer and gay rights activist Jacob Meister.
Not everyone in party leadership would be displeased by that scenario. Brown was forced into a tough faceoff with Meister at last month’s county slate-making session before securing the party’s endorsement.
In a telephone interview Tuesday, Hardiman said he has not made a final decision but is leaning toward the court clerk’s race.
If he does run against Brown, Hardiman said, “I’m in it to win,” not triangulate the vote.
“No, I ain’t running in no race to split the black vote,” Hardiman said pointedly, expressing confidence in his ability to defeat either Brown or Rush.
Hardiman, who received 28 percent of the vote against Gov. Pat Quinn in the 2014 Democratic primary, said he began to switch his attention to the clerk’s race after being approached by supporters who told him he could get more financial backing against Brown than Rush.
Hardiman declined to identify those supporters.
“When it comes down to the big money question, I may have to go where the donations are at,” Hardiman told me in a phone interview Tuesday. “I plan to move in the direction where the finances are.”
Hardiman said he has already gathered enough signatures on nominating petitions to get on the ballot against Rush and does not want those who helped gather them to think him “fickle.”
He said he would meet separately with his congressional supporters and court clerk backers before making a decision this weekend.
As for his preference, Hardiman said: “I would love to take Dorothy Brown’s seat,” in part because it would allow him to remain in Chicago.
Hardiman first gained attention for his work as director of the anti-violence group CeaseFire Illinois, but was dumped by the organization after a 2013 arrest on a domestic battery charge. Prosecutors later dropped the charge at his wife’s request.
In his race against Quinn, Hardiman amassed 125,500 votes statewide and even managed to carry 30 Downstate counties.
The most logical explanation for that showing is that Democratic voters were expressing their displeasure with Quinn, but Hardiman believes it was at least partially indicative of his abilities as a candidate operating on a shoestring.
With proper financial backing, Hardiman said he could beat anybody.
Hardiman, obviously not lacking in self-confidence, said he thought Gov. Bruce Rauner should have given him an appointment, or at least named him to his transition team, based on his campaign showing against Quinn. But he said Rauner wasn’t interested.
Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough, the Proviso Township Democratic committeeman, said she was surprised when Hardiman showed up at the Saturday endorsement session and then again when he stepped forward with the group running for clerk.
“It just came from out of the blue,” she said. “He said somebody is willing to underwrite his campaign.”
Despite the suddenness of Hardiman’s move, Yarbrough said the candidate proposed a six-point plan for the clerk’s office, indicating some level of preparation.
In his interview with me, Hardiman criticized the clerk’s office as “outdated” for relying too heavily on manual recordkeeping.
“Right now, the Circuit Court is like stuck, stuck in the past,” Hardiman said. “I believe I’m going to bring a new flavor to the clerk’s office.”
Hardiman said he wants to run based on his ideas for the office rather than attacking his opponents, but did note: “Dorothy Brown has some shortcomings. A lot of people are not happy with her.”
Hardiman said he gets a lot of his support from ministers, although he also said “some politicians are supporting me from behind the scenes.”
Former state Sen. Rickey Hendon of Chicago helped Hardiman in his campaign against Quinn and has a knack for following the money.
Dorothy Brown might want to ask for a ceasefire.
Follow Mark Brown on Twitter: @MarkBrownCST