Tyger Ligon and Jim Daley contributed reporting to this story, and David Elutilo contributed data analysis.

In the month leading up to  the April 4 mayoral runoff, Tio Hardiman Jr., a native of the Austin community on Chicago’s West Side, was paid to work for former Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Paul Vallas’s unsuccessful campaign for mayor.  

Hardiman Jr. told The TRiiBE that he learned about the opportunity from a long-time friend named Napoleon and decided to join. For $25 an hour, Hardiman and numerous other paid campaign workers operated out of a field office on the West Side. 

The 24-year-old is the son of Tio Hardiman Sr., a longtime community organizer who became notable for his anti-violence work in the late 1990s with Ceasefire (now called Cure Violence). He’s also the executive director of Violence Interrupters, an organization that develops relationships with community leaders and neighborhood residents, and aims to reduce violence using tools such as de-escalation and mediation. Hardiman Sr. ran for governor in Democratic primaries in 2014 and 2018.

Hardiman Jr. and other Vallas campaign workers primarily distributed literature and lawn signs. While working, he said he got to speak with residents and learn about their varying points of view about Vallas and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson. Some who he came across were Vallas supporters, while others supported Johnson, who ultimately won the runoff and carried every one of the city’s majority-Black wards. 

In the final push for votes ahead of the runoff, Vallas spent more than $600,000 to hire hundreds of people like Hardiman Jr. to get out the vote in the Black community. Payments to such workers were listed under the catchall category “services” on campaign expenditure reports. A TRiiBE analysis found much of what Vallas spent on individual services went to residents of South and West Side wards. 

The Vallas campaign spent the most on such services in the 9th Ward on the city’s far South Side, at just over $31,000. Anthony Beale, who endorsed Vallas during the runoff, represents the ward. Johnson won the 9th Ward by a nearly 60-point margin.

The 36th Ward, which snakes along Grand Avenue on the city’s Northwest Side, saw the second-highest spending on individual get-out-the vote services, at $22,873. Represented by Gil Villegas, the 36th Ward is majority-Latiné. Eleven campaign workers were paid amounts ranging from about $1,000 to $3,000. Johnson won that ward with 51 percent of the vote.

On the South Side, Vallas spent heavily on campaign services in wards such as the 6th, 21st and 27th, which are represented by Alds. Sawyer, Brookins Jr. and Burnett Jr., respectively. The Vallas campaign spent more than $17,000 in each of the 6th and 27th Wards, which Johnson won by more than 80 percent, and about $21,000 in the 21st, which Johnson won by about 60 percent. 

“Yes, I did believe in [Vallas’s] policies,” Hardiman Jr. said. “Basically, I was seeing how many people endorsed him, and the people that endorsed him were some of the people in my community who hold high political standing,” such as businessman and two-time mayoral candidate Willie Wilson, who came in fifth in the February 28 election before endorsing Vallas in the runoff.

Hardiman Jr. voted for Vallas in the April 4 runoff. Ultimately, he said he believed in Vallas and his vision for Chicago but admitted that he didn’t know much about Johnson.

A group of people marching through the neighborhood holding Paul Vallas signs on the day of a Bobby Rush press conference to back Vallas. Photo by Alexander Gouletas for The TRiiBE.

Veteran journalist and political consultant Delmarie Cobb characterized Vallas’s spending of hundreds of thousands of dollars on the South and West Sides as an attempt to buy the Black vote

“Absolutely, that’s what he was trying to do, and people were lining up to get the money, because they saw this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Cobb said. “He had all this money to burn, and they were lining up to make sure they were on the receiving end.” 

According to numerous Black people who spoke to The TRiiBE throughout the 2023 municipal election cycle, Vallas’s campaign ran counter to the needs and interests of the Black community in Chicago. They cited his history of privatizing schools, in addition to his tough-on-crime campaign rhetoric and endorsement from the Fraternal Order of Police.

Hardiman Sr. told The TRiiBE that he never endorsed Vallas, although he was approached by friends who wanted him to discuss the campaign. 

“They reached out to me and asked me what my thoughts were,” he said. “I said, ‘no, I can’t do it myself. But I’ll allow my son to make the money.’ He had to pay his bills like a lot of young people that worked for Paul Vallas.

“Is a Black person a sellout because they supported Paul Vallas?” he asked rhetorically. “No.”

The word “sellout” has a storied history in the Black community. The most straightforward meaning of the word refers to a Black person who behaves in a way that entirely betrays the interests of the Black community. But Damon Williams, a movement builder, organizer and co-director of the #LetUsBreathe Collective, said that when it comes to Vallas’s campaign, it’s more nuanced.

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Some people who aligned themselves with Vallas — whether Black elected officials, other political leaders who endorsed him in the race, political hopefuls, or everyday Black folks who worked on the campaign — knowingly or unwittingly participated in a campaign that undermined Black progress, Williams said.

“I don’t think if it weren’t for those financial incentives that [Black elected leaders] would, from their heart or from the position that they’re grounded in, would be supporting someone like Paul Vallas,” Williams said. “So I think the language of ‘sellout’ kind of diminishes it or is something we can kind of scoff off,” he said.

“We all have to make compromises in our work life often,” Williams said. “I would not support it. I don’t think it is a good way to engage the community. But I also want to make space for survival and hustle.” 

Black elected officials and Black community leaders who endorsed Vallas have more power, clout and money than the average community resident.  

“It’s one thing not to be aligned with Brandon Johnson,” Williams said. “You did not have to make an endorsement, so when you use the language of ‘a sellout,’ I think it gets weighted, but what is seen is that people’s names and support and presence and organizing capacity is for sale.” 

Hardiman Sr. disagrees. “People have the right to vote for the candidate of their choice,” he said. “The reality is that there are really no sellouts in politics. People choose sides all the time.” 

That’s where more political education is necessary, Williams said. “I can’t be mad at people for taking work or getting wages when those are so desperately needed. But I do think we need to challenge how conservative policies can be absorbed across social class.”

“I make no apologies”: Black Chicago Politicians

Endorsements began flowing in for the runoff within days of the Feb. 28 general election. On March 2, former longtime Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White became the first Black political leader to endorse Vallas. 

“I believe that Paul Vallas is the right person for the job,” White said at the time. “So I make no apologies for my endorsement.”

Some members of Chicago’s Black Aldermanic Caucus (CABC), including Alds. Sophia King (4th Ward), Roderick Sawyer (6th), Michelle Harris (8th), Anthony Beale (9th), David Moore (17th), Derrick Curtis (18th), Walter Burnett (27th) and Emma Mitts (37th), rallied behind Vallas’s bid for mayor. Burnett and Sawyer made their endorsements public on March 4 and March 6, respectively. 

Sawyer, Harris, Beale, Moore, Curtis and Mitts publicly announced their endorsement of Vallas during a press conference on March 16. With the exception of Sawyer, all six are incumbent alders who were reelected on Feb. 28. Illinois State Board of Elections records show that the Vallas campaign contributed to each of their ward organizations or campaign committees following the endorsements.

Graphic by David Elutilo for The TRiiBE.

Harris’s 8th Ward Regular Democratic Organization, which she leads, received two payments from Vallas’s campaign on March 30 and April 5 totaling $30,400. 

On March 31, just days before the runoff, Vallas gave $29,475 to the 17th Ward Democratic Organization and $16,957 to the 18th Ward Democratic Organization. 

On the day of the runoff, the New 37th Ward Democratic Org, which Mitts leads, received $15,500 from Vallas, and Citizens to Elect Anthony Beale received $15,000. 

King and Sawyer ran for mayor in the Feb. 28 election and are retiring from the City Council. King finished in eighth place and Sawyer finished last. King endorsed Vallas on March 28. 

Vallas contributed $60,000 to 4th-Ward hopeful Prentice Butler, King’s chief of staff. Butler ran for King’s seat but lost in the April 4 runoff election against Illinois State Rep. Lamont Robinson. Sawyer’s 6th Ward Democratic Organization, which his brother is the chair of, received two contributions totaling $67,850, from Vallas’s campaign on March 27 and April 5. 

Other retired Black politicians, such as former State Senate President Emil Jones Jr. and former Congressman and Illinois Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Rush, endorsed Vallas ahead of the April 4 runoff. It is unclear whether Jones, Rush, or Burnett received contributions from Vallas’s campaign. 

An abundance of capital is necessary to run successful campaigns, Cobb said. Both mayoral candidates secured significant contributions when the field was narrowed down to a head-to-head race.

Photo by Alexander Gouletas for The TRiiBE.
Photo by Alexander Gouletas for The TRiiBE.

Vallas raised $19 million for his campaign, more than half of which came from just 44 people or organizations whose contributions were in the six-figure range. Vallas’s campaign spent the cash nearly as quickly as it was raised. “Vallas was spending an obscene amount of money,” Cobb said. 

Despite Vallas’s campaign donating more than $230,000 in campaign contributions to members of the CABC who endorsed him, their constituents voted overwhelmingly for Johnson. Vallas did not win a single ward in which a Black alder had endorsed him.

Support for Johnson in those wards was over 50 percent in most cases. For example, in Mitts’s 37th Ward on the West Side, Johnson won 80 percent of the vote. 

On the South Side, Johnson won Sawyer’s 6th Ward by 80 percent and  King’s 4th Ward by 72 percent. 

Hardiman Sr. said that Vallas’s campaign became a “cash cow.” He told The TRiiBE that Black alders who endorsed Vallas did so knowing he wouldn’t win the majority of the Black vote. “There was no way in the world the Black community was going to [vote] go against one of their own,” Hardiman said. 

Regarding Black alders who threw their support behind Vallas, “What’s really important is that not only did they do it, they did it, and it didn’t work,” Williams said. “There’s some implicit exposure or embarrassment by the fact that all of their bases and wards voted dramatically in the opposite direction.” 

Community Actors — or Grifters?

Vallas used his campaign dollars to make inroads into the Black community. He did so by employing support from community organizers like Ja’Mal Green, former Chicago 9-1-1 dispatcher Keith A. Thornton Jr., and political consultant Chimaobi Enyia, who claimed to have connections to Black leaders, churches and communities on the South and West sides to turn out the Black vote on April 4. 

The 2023 mayoral election was community activist Ja’Mal Green’s first official run for elected office. He briefly ran for mayor in 2019 before dropping out of the race and endorsing Lori Lightfoot’s candidacy that same year. 

Green received about two percent of the vote citywide in the Feb. 28 general election. In the days after, he announced that he was weighing who to endorse in the race.

On March 6, Green tweeted that he was considering whether to endorse Johnson or Vallas; after the Vallas campaign donated $28,460, Green endorsed him.

“I must be careful and listen to both candidates than to just support someone because of emotions or symbolism. Our future is on the line. The communities you never been to is suffering and their future is on the line,” Green tweeted on March 2 in response to a question from another Twitter user.

Then on March 15, Green announced that he would be backing Vallas in the runoff. In a since-deleted tweet, Green wrote: “Today I’m proud to endorse Vallas because I don’t believe in political spin, I believe in results. Candidates must COMMIT for accountability!” He has since deleted the tweet.

During an Instagram live event on March 15, Green said, “No one owns me. Paul Vallas ain’t got enough money to give me. A job — ain’t enough money in there for me. I got my own everything, so I can, and do what I want.” 

Illinois State Board of Elections (ISBE) filings reveal that Peace & Paradise, an LLC with ties to Green, received $28,460 from Vallas for campaign services on March 14 — the day before his endorsement announcement. 

As was first reported by the watchdog community news site The People’s Fabric, Peace & Paradise’s current LLC filing lists Rosezina Jordan as its manager. An update was filed on April 10 naming Jordan as the sole manager. However, annual filings obtained by The TRiiBE indicate that Green was also listed as a manager alongside Jordan, most recently for June 2022.  

ISBE records reveal that Amani Ashford, a campaign contractor for Green, was also paid $3,000 from Vallas on March 27 for consulting. Ashford could not be reached for comment. 

Reached by phone, Green declined to comment on this story.

 —

Operation PUSH Gatecrashers

On the morning of March 16, a coalition of grassroots organizers held a press conference at Rainbow PUSH Coalition’s headquarters to stand in support of Johnson.

As the press conference wrapped up, Thornton Jr., along with local activist Mark Carter and other Vallas supporters barged into PUSH and began shouting. After being escorted out, they held a separate news conference outside alongside other former Philadelphia school executives.

Between February and March 2023, Thornton received five payments from Vallas totaling $18,119. Thornton’s fifth payment was dated March 22, about a week after the event at Rainbow PUSH. 

Reached by phone, Thornton declined The TRiiBE’s interview request, but he did say, “Paul Vallas is a wonderful man.” 

Thornton came to prominence as a 9-1-1 dispatcher who directed first responders to the scene of the shooting of  CPD officers Carlos Yanez, who survived, and Ella French, who died from her wounds, in Aug. 2021. Thornton, whose claims about his background drew scrutiny, resigned from his position at the Office of Emergency Management and Communications in July 2022.

Graphic by David Elutilo for The TRiiBE.

ISBE records also show that Thornton’s father, Keith Sr., and four others listed at the same address in Bolingbrook, IL., received payments from Vallas’s campaign totaling $1,700 for “services.” Thornton Sr. declined to comment for this story. 

Since the runoff, numerous allegations have surfaced that Vallas has not paid campaign workers. Multiples sources who worked for the Vallas campaign told The TRiiBE that they know of campaign workers who were not appropriately paid or that their checks bounced at a Currency Exchange. 

There’s also a pending lawsuit that Vallas filed against Enyia on April 20, a consultant on his campaign. ISBE records reveal that Vallas’s campaign gave Ikoro LLC, Enyia’s LLC, four payments on March 20, March 21 and March 30, totaling $500,000. 

According to the lawsuit, Vallas claims that Enyia submitted invoices from March 20 to April 2 for “consulting services” for $680,000 for work he did not perform, nor that he can produce receipts to prove. The lawsuit alleges Enyia was contracted to outsource campaign work to Black Men United, a 501(c)(3) organization. Such nonprofits are legally prohibited from doing campaign work.

“Chima stated and represented to Vallas that he had many connections in Chicago’s Black communities that were supportive of Vallas for Mayor. Chima also advised Vallas that he carried a lot of influence in the Chicago Black Communities,” the suit reads. “And represented that he could get Vallas access to Black churches, organizations and individuals who would be willing to do campaign work for Vallas for Mayor.” 

Hardiman Sr. believes Vallas was misled about Chima Enyia’s connections to Chicago’s Black community and whether or not he could turn out the Black vote in the runoff. 

He also pointed out that the Vallas campaign’s decision to enlist the services of Enyia reveals a lack of understanding from white people about Black Americans and Black people across the diaspora. Hardiman said some white people “think we’re all the same.”

Enyia is a first-generation Nigerian American and the youngest of six siblings. His parents immigrated to Chicago in the 1970s following the Biafran War. His sister, Amara Enyia, ran for mayor in 2019. Chimaobi Enyia worked as an aide to former Illinois governor Pat Quinn, was former executive director of the Illinois Liquor Commission, and former executive of Cresco Labs. According to the suit, Vallas claims Chimaobi convinced him to consult on the campaign based on these credentials. But according to Hardiman Sr., Enyia was not deeply connected to the Black community.

“There’s a big difference between African, Jamaican and African- American people,” he said. “We all love each other, but there’s a disconnect. So I believe Paul got misguided advice to contract with [Enyia]. And I’m not taking nothing from [Enyia]. He made $800,000.” 

Hardiman Sr. and others whom The TRiiBE interviewed for this story questioned why the Vallas campaign would give nearly a million dollars to Enyia without confirming if he could produce the number of Black votes needed to win the election for Vallas. 

The lawsuit surprised Thomas Simmons, a longtime resident of the West Side who said he began working for the campaign in 2022. He was a coordinator for Vallas’s campaign and was paid $4,000 on March 16. He put together mailers for residents, passed out literature and went door to door, speaking with residents. He voted for Vallas on Feb. 28 and April 4, and says he believed he was the stronger candidate.

“I’ve been in politics for a long time. I have talked to people who’ve been in for a long time. They never heard of [Enyia],” Simmons said. “[Former] governor Quinn must have vouched for him because he used to work for him.” Vallas was Quinn’s running mate in the 2014 Illinois midterm election.

Reached by phone this week, Enyia directed The TRiiBE to speak to his attorney, James Dahl, who referred us to an April 24 statement that called the lawsuit “shameful and unfounded.” Dahl also indicated that Enyia would address the allegations in court. 

In a May 9 court filing, Vallas’s attorneys requested “a special process server” after failing to locate Enyia to serve him multiple times between April 24 and May 8. 

Church Collection Plates

The Black church has long been a bastion of political power, as both campaigns were apparently well aware: in the weeks leading up to the April 4 runoff, both Johnson and Vallas courted voters at Black churches. Willie Wilson organized a group of pastors to endorse Vallas; days later, Rev. Al Sharpton attended a tacitly pro-Johnson rally at a church on the West Side. In some cases, the candidates’ campaigns left donations in the offering plate.

Vallas donated money to half a dozen churches on the South Side, including $500 each to Greater House of Prayer Church in Pullman; Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Auburn Gresham; Rebirth Chicago Centennial Baptist Church in Ashburn; Shiloah Baptist Church in Brainerd and Third Baptist Church of Chicago in Washington Heights. The Apostolic Church of God in Woodlawn received a $200 donation from the campaign. 

Brandon Johnson also donated funds to three churches on the South Side, including Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in Fuller Park, Greater Harvest Baptist Church in Washington Park and St. James Community Church in Chatham. 

On April 2, FMBC hosted a rally for Johnson’s campaign that featured musical guests such as the Chicago Mass Choir, Kevin C. Monfort and the Tribe of Favor’d. The church received $3,700 from the campaign for hosting the rally, as well as a $50 donation from the campaign. Greater Harvest and St. James received $300 and $250, respectively.

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The TRiiBE reached out to all six churches Vallas donated to for comment; most declined or did not respond by press time. Rev. T.D. Hughes, the senior pastor at Third Baptist, agreed to an interview.

TBC invited Johnson and Vallas to separate Sunday morning services on March 12 and 19, respectively. The church has a civic engagement group that coordinates such events, and they contacted each candidate’s campaigns directly, inviting them to speak to the congregation, Hughes told The TRiiBE.

“The Black church and the church as a whole has been the central figure in our nation, and so the church has always played a pivotal role in moving things forward in our country,” Hughes said. “I don’t think that that’s changed. Considering the political climate that we have been in, it is important that the church have a space and a voice to be heard.”

On average, 700 to 800 people attend church services in person and online, Hughes said. Because many of TBC’s members are elderly, Hughes said bringing candidates to them is easier because they can’t travel to candidate forums. Hughes said that donations aren’t required of candidates who speak to the congregation. 

There is diversity of thought among members of TBC. Hughes said there were policies and ideas from both campaigns that he felt resonated with members. 

“The city chose the candidate that resonated well with people in the city of Chicago and for that, we want to be supportive of Mayor Johnson,” Hughes said. “We want to work with him and walk alongside him and support him just as we have every other mayor before him because whether we agree with everything or not, he is the mayor.” 

Though church visits from candidates vying for votes are common, Hughes said he hopes that the faith community sees the same level of engagement from elected officials when it’s not election season. 

“People would have more confidence in the [elected officials] that come to see them around election season if they were to see them after that,” Hughes said. “They know they are there not because they want something but because they want to be with the people.” 

Though Vallas outspent Johnson in his attempts to woo Black voters, Cobb sees Johnson’s win as another moment where Black voters recognized their political power. 

“It’s always been about people power. The problem is that we don’t understand that,” Cobb said. “We believe that we’ve handed over our power to other people. Harold Washington proved it was about people power.”

After Washington’s sudden death in 1987, Cobb said Black people became disenchanted with politics. 

“We walked away from our power and gave it to other people, and so what you’ve seen in the last couple of years is a reawakening. You saw a reawakening for Lori [Lightfoot], and you saw a reawakening again for Brandon [Johnson], because we have the numbers.” 

Correction: This article originally stated that Vallas  narrowly won the 36th Ward runoff with 50.7 percent of the vote; Mayor-elect Johnson won it with 51 percent.

is a multimedia reporter for The TRiiBE.