APNewsBreak: 2 people close to Cook Co. Sheriff Tom Dart tell AP he will run for Chicago mayor

By Don Babwin, AP
Wednesday, September 22, 2010

AP Sources: Sheriff will run for Chicago mayor

CHICAGO — Tom Dart, the Cook County sheriff who made national headlines when he sued Craigslist, halted court-ordered evictions and headed a probe into the alleged resale of a historic cemetery’s burial plots, will run for mayor of Chicago, two people close to Dart said Wednesday.

“He’s all the way in,” said one person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to talk publicly about Dart’s plans. “He’s decided to run.”

Dart’s decision puts him toward the front of a pack of potential contenders exploring a campaign to replace Mayor Richard M. Daley, including White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun.

Reached at his office Wednesday, Dart said only that he is “very strongly considering” a mayoral campaign, and that he expects to make an announcement in three to four weeks.

With ample name recognition and a strong political organization to help get out votes, Dart should be able to mount a formidable campaign, analysts said.

“He automatically — if he declares — will be the leading candidate,” said Dick Simpson, a University of Illinois at Chicago political scientist and a former Chicago alderman.

Dart, 48, is in the process of putting together a campaign staff and has started circulating petitions to get the 12,500 signatures that candidates need by late November to get their names on the ballot in the February primary, the first person said.

Dart also has been calling public officials and business people to tell them of his decision to run, the person said. A Chicago businessman and close Dart friend, also speaking on condition of anonymity because he did not want to pre-empt the sheriff’s announcement, confirmed he had received such a call from Dart.

The sheriff had been seriously considering a run ever since Daley’s surprise announcement earlier this month that he won’t run for a seventh term. Dart also is running for sheriff in the November elections, and is widely expected to be re-elected.

Dart’s decision puts him at the center of what is easily the most wide open mayoral race in more than two decades.

Emanuel in recent days has been calling and meeting with other potential contenders to discuss the race. On Tuesday in Washington, he met with Congressman Danny Davis, who is circulating nominating petitions for mayor.

Davis said Emanuel did not commit, “but I got the gut feeling that he’s going to run.” Davis said he had not spoken with Dart.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said even President Barack Obama doesn’t know whether Emanuel will leave the administration to run for Chicago mayor.

Gibbs said Emanuel hasn’t made up his mind, and the president is not aware of what the decision will be. He added that Emanuel’s decision-making process is happening outside of the West Wing.

U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. also is considering a run, but his candidacy is in doubt amid recent allegations he directed a businessman to pay former Gov. Rod Blagojevich millions of dollars if he appointed Jackson to fill Obama’s vacated Senate seat. The businessman also said Jackson asked him to buy plane tickets for a woman described as a “social acquaintance” of Jackson’s.

The strength of a Dart candidacy would be rooted in his headline-grabbing tenure as sheriff.

A former Cook County prosecutor and state lawmaker — but never a lawman himself — Dart landed on Time magazine’s list of 100 most influential people last year for popular but some decidedly un-sheriff-like moves.

In 2008, for example, he stopped sending his deputies out to enforce court-ordered foreclosures because many of those forced out were low-income renters who faithfully paid their rent to delinquent homeowners who were failing to make mortgage payments. He started up the evictions again only when banks agreed to what he considered a kinder, gentler eviction process.

Last year he sued Craigslist, alleging the online classified site has created the “largest source of prostitution in America.” He brought with him to that news conference a 19-year-old woman whom he said turned to prostitution after going on the site in search of modeling jobs. He also told of his detectives posing online as minors seeking sex on Craigslist.

A federal judge ultimately threw out the lawsuit, but not before it made national headlines.

Dart built on his reputation as a protector of the vulnerable when his office launched an investigation into an alleged scheme by workers at a historic black cemetery to resell burial plots after discarding the original remains inside.

Dart, with his button down shirts and khaki pants, looks more like a high school teacher than a sheriff. But he can be a savvy politician, analysts said.

“He has organized vast sections of the city for Daley and for his own campaigns,” said Don Rose, a Chicago political analyst. “He knows the game very well.”

Dart also would have a solid Democratic organization to work for him from the moment he announces, analysts say.

“He does have a couple hundred guys he can put on the streets any one time,” said Thom Serafin, a Chicago political analyst. “(He has) one of the few organizations left in town with foot soldiers.”

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