If you talk to people in the campaign Tio Hardiman is running for Illinois governor, one thing becomes plain very quickly: These are people who believe they are doing the right thing.
To an outside observer, the challenge Hardiman and his running mate, attorney Brunell Donald, are mounting in the March Democratic primary for governor against incumbent Pat Quinn may seem foolhardy, to say the least.
Quinn has $4.5 million in his campaign war chest, the backing of prominent Democrats across the state, and even some of the unions he angered with last year’s pension reform bill are planning to support him. As well, he has a legislative record that includes passing same-sex marriage in Illinois, along with medical marijuana, concealed carry and more.
On the most recent campaign filings, by contrast, Hardiman showed $553.80 in available funds. He boasts no significant endorsements, hardly any media coverage and a skeleton campaign staff with little to no experience.
But to those on Hardiman’s side, very little of that matters. To them, it’s a case of David against Goliath, or, in this case, committed reformers against entrenched machine politics.
“I’m different than any other candidate [in that] I’m going up against machine politics,” Hardiman, 51, told Ward Room. “Politicians like Quinn are breaking the state, and the working class and poor people of this state are going to continue to suffer if we don’t break this cycle of machine controlled politics.”
Hardiman is perhaps best known for his years of work with community anti-violence group CeaseFire and as creator of the successful Violence Interrupter concept, which works to stop gang violence through interpersonal relationships, community mobilization, youth outreach, public education and more. Hardiman was head of CeaseFire for more than six years.
In August, Hardiman announced a run for governor in the March primary against Quinn and Bill Daley, the former mayor’s brother. After Daley dropped out a month later, Hardiman found himself as the only challenger against Quinn’s reelection. The campaign won a victory of sorts in December when his name was selected to appear first on the primary ballot, above Quinn and his running mate, Paul Vallas.
Since then, however, it’s been a trial for Hardiman and Brunell to remain in the race. First, there were the challenges to the campaign’s nominating petition signatures, a move Hardiman is convinced was orchestrated by Quinn and his supporters.
Then, in a potentially more serious blow, Donald faced the prospect of being thrown off the ballot due to an incorrect address on her petitions. After more than a few rocky moments, the campaign survived the legal challenges earlier this month to remain in the race.
For Hardiman and Brunell, however, it’s always been about the need to speak up for those who need it, and bringing a message of real change to Springfield.
For example, Hardiman plans to fix much of the state’s fiscal crisis by opening five state-owned gambling casinos and plowing the profits back into fixing issues such as education funding and the state pension crisis.
“Why allow individuals or special interests the opportunity to become billionaires when the state is broke?” he says. “Opening up five state-owned casinos could bring in about $5 billion and create 12,000 to 15,000 new jobs.”
Hardiman wants to leverage his experience working directly with gangs to address the issue of violence in Illinois by focusing on illegal trafficking and strengthening gun laws while respecting the rights of legal gun owners. He also wants to cap the number of charter schools in the state, and calls himself “the best hope for unions in the state right now.”
For her part, Donald has no direct political experience but carries an inspiring personal story she says will help inform her choices as lieutenant governor if elected. At the age of 10, she says saw her mother stabbed to death in their home, and spent the rest of her childhood in foster and group homes.
In college, she was often homeless, but kept a promise to her mother to become a lawyer. Today, she has her own practice after stints in the state’s attorney and public defenders’ offices.
Each of them speak with the passion that comes from spending part of their lives working or living the experience of living on the streets, seeing those who struggle every day to make it, and both want to upend a political system that favors not those who need help but those who have already made it.
Whether they can translate that passion into electoral victory, of course, is another matter entirely. Besides having little money, the campaign seems more of an idea than a reality at this point, just a few months away from Primary Day.
Nevertheless, Hardiman says he’s traveling the state, shaking hands and getting a great response, particularly from those who feel anger at Quinn and are looking for an alternative.
Marc Porch, Hardiman’s central Illinois campaign manager, says the candidate and running mate are all over the state, practicing the kind of retail politics that can offset a lack of organization and funding.
“In Peoria, for example, he’s visited several prominent churches and the response has been incredible, from the pastors, the people in the congregations, on the streets,” Porch said. “Now that the campaign has passed its legal tests, I have hundreds of people who are ready to get on board [as volunteers].”
But political reality says it’s difficult to win a statewide campaign with pocketful of change, a handful of volunteers and an almost total lack of media coverage.
Hardiman doesn't care, and sees his beliefs—in his cause, in his campaign and in those who are with him on the trail—as the one true key to victory.
“This is a very progressive campaign,” he says. “Anywhere we go and talk to people, people are tired of Quinn. Our staff is highly committed, and we have a lot of volunteers willing to go all the way with us, because they know Tio Hardiman has the fortitude and backbone [to win].”
After all, Hardiman says, “I believe one man with courage represents a majority.”