This month, HYPE's Civic Engagement Committee
Vice Chair Nick Pinto interviewed Thomas "TJ" Clarke II
, the Special Initiatives Coordinator for United States Senator Chris Murphy. TJ, who is currently running for Hartford City Council, received his Bachelor's in Technical Management with a concentration in Project Management from DeVry University
. He is the Board Treasurer for the Blue Hills Civic Association
as well as a Board Member of Upper Albany Main Street
. TJ is also Co-Founder and Managing Partner of the Emerging Leaders Network, a nonprofit organization responsible for bringing back the Hartford African American Day Parade.
The goal of HYPE’s Public Office Blog series is to educate readers on the process of running for public office, provide some insight and perspective through personal narratives, and build a network of civically engaged young professionals and entrepreneurs.
What made you run for office?
TJ always had an interests in politics, going back as far as first grade, when he avidly followed the Presidential Election. Raised in Hartford and Bloomfield, TJ became actively involved in politics during former State Representative Kenneth Green's campaign, volunteering to knock on doors, assist with voter registration, and election strategy. TJ worked for Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra as Assistant to the Mayor and Chief of Staff, overseeing the Constituent Services Office and working as a Liaison in the community. After leaving the Mayors office, TJ worked for the Urban League of Greater Hartford as Director of Workforce Development Training, before accepting his current role as Special Initiatives Coordinator for United States Senator Chris Murphy. Throughout his experiences, TJ realized that change was needed in the City of Hartford, and that the best way for him to affect that change was to run for City Council. Currently, TJ is involved with the My Brothers Keeper initiative, as well as the Promise Zone initiative, and working on these initiatives has furthered his desire to do more for the city, and encouraged his decision to run for office. His time at the Urban League inspired his desire to work on youth civic engagement programs, as well as more work engaging young professionals, Quality of life and economic development are intrinsically tied, and TJ believes that developing neighborhoods will better the quality of life for residents of Hartford. Wanting to see these changes come to fruition greatly inspired TJ's desire to run for office.
How far in advance did you choose to run?
TJ decided to run for City Council last year summer, but knew this was his path even before that time. Given his experience in campaigns and politics, he understood that he would need time to prepare his campaign and campaign strategy. With over a year to prepare, and having worked in government in different capacities, TJ felt he had the preparation needed to run a successful campaign.
What are the three tips for getting elected?
1.Understand the key issues
TJ encourages anyone pursuing politics to fully understand the key issues while running for office. Truly understanding the needs of the City is key, and having a working knowledge of current issues is paramount. Taxes, economic development, and collaborations are just a few important elements to understand in order to run successfully.
2.Know the Candidates We are pleased to see active participation in local government and highlight the young professionals pursuing and/or holding these elected positions. Please note that HYPE can not endorse any candidate represented in the blog series or otherwise.
Knowing the other players in the race is important to formulating your campaign strategy. TJ suggests getting to know not only those candidates within your party, but those in other parties as well. Understanding the difference between view points can better help to articulate your own
3.Know your city
Having both grown up in and worked in Hartford for many years, TJ is well versed in the culture of the city. TJ believes that an intimate understanding of the neighborhoods, community organizations, and issues that most affect the citizens is crucial to success. Crime reduction, public safety, and neighborhood resources are just a few key topics for many residents of Hartford. Being connected to the residents and their concerns is necessary to obtain votes, and you must have an understanding of their concerns, and a plan to address them.
What should potential candidate know before deciding to run for office?
Having knowledge of the internal politics within your party is especially important. TJ recommends knowing who the key players are, and where they stand on all issues, especially those important to you. Knowing the relationships within political parties will help you navigate around the system that is already in place. Having a good relationship with key members of the city is also important, such as leaders of community organizations, faith-based organizations, and your neighbors. Most importantly, know who you are and what you stand for. Through a combination of his education and work experience, TJ knows what he stands for and what he changes he wants to affect in the City of Hartford.