Illinois voters will go to the polls next year to elect a governor and a former Austin resident, who is among the candidates, is hoping to make history as the first African American to serve in the state's highest office.
Community activist Tio Hardiman, 54, is among the candidates running to unseat Republican Governor Bruce Rauner. For Hardiman, a Democrat, it's his second and last run for governor.
"If I am unsuccessful I do not plan to run for governor again," Hardiman told the Austin Weekly News. "But I don't plan on losing this time either. I learned a lot during my first run for governor and that's why I'm confident this time around I will win."
In 2014, Hardiman lost the Democratic nomination to former Gov. Pat Quinn, but said he performed better than many political analysts predicted. The founder and executive director of the nonprofit Violence Interrupters Inc. won 125,500 votes (28.1 percent) to Quinn's 321,818 (71.9 percent), according to state election data.
Quinn was defeated in the general election by then-Republican challenger Rauner. Hardiman, who previously was director of the nonprofit CeaseFire Illinois, said he is also an adjunct professor teaching criminal justice at Governors State University in south suburban University Park.
A gubernatorial candidate needs a minimal of 5,000 signatures and no more than 12,500 from registered voters to be placed on the ballot. Hardiman said he secured close to 9,000 signatures in 2014 but expects to have the maximum signatures allowed this time.
"All I need is 300,000 votes this time to secure victory," contends Hardiman, a husband and father of five adult children. "I plan to be the governor for everybody, but I am running to represent the 99 percent poor and working class people, and not the 1 percent of billionaires."
Gov. Rauner was a millionaire businessman before he became governor and now his Democratic opponents include two billionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker and multimillionaire scion Chris Kennedy, who is the son of the late senator and presidential candidate Robert Kennedy.
But despite the relative wealth of his opponents, Hardiman said he is not worried about raising a lot of money to win.
"Give me $500,000 and I'll win. I don't need millions of dollars to get my message to voters," said Hardiman, who resides in south suburban Calumet City. "Spending lots of money to run for office does not guarantee a victory. These billionaires don't know what's like to 'rob Peter to pay Paul.' These billionaire 'cookie cutters' are out of touch with hard times."
His first fundraiser is set for Aug. 3 in the Pilsen neighborhood followed by another one on Aug. 18. And within two weeks Hardiman said he plans to announce his running mate, who in 2014 was Brunell Donald.
The state recently passed a budget after two years of stalemate between Democratic and Republican lawmakers in Springfield. But Hardiman said even with a budget, Illinois still must address high unemployment, gun violence, inadequate funding for schools and equal pay for women, four issues he said the next governor should make a priority.
"I support House Bill 453 [proposed legislation sponsored by state Reps. Mary Flowers (D-31st) and Rita Mayfield (D-60th) that would impose a business tax on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Chicago Board of Options and the Chicago Board of Trade]," said Hardiman. "This tax could bring in $3 billion a year in revenue for the state. I would use this revenue to implement some of my changes like improve school funding and offset some of the pension crisis."
Besides Hardiman, Rauner, Pritzker, and Kennedy, other declared gubernatorial candidates include Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th); state Sen. Daniel Bliss (D-9th); state Rep. Scott Drury (D-58th); businessman Alex Paterakis; and downstate schools Superintendent Bob Daiber.