A former Democrat, Graves filed a lawsuit April 15 claiming GOP brass unfairly amended the party's bylaws by prohibiting anyone from holding a leadership position in the party if they've voted in a Democratic primary in the previous eight years.
Graves has said the party's laws were changed just six days before the election in an effort to keep him from taking the seat. Thirteen other Republican ward bosses were likewise ousted in the effort.
On Friday, Hoffman's written ruling said party leaders are indeed allowed to set their own requirements for candidates. But in Gaves' case, the timing of the changes was unfair because early voting had already begun Feb. 4 when Graves was deemed ineligible.
"I feel like I was right from Day 1," Graves said outside of Hoffman's chambers in the Cook County Courthouse. "I have been saying this for 17 months. I thought I was doing everything right."
Chicago GOP Chairman Chris Cleveland accused Graves and the others of being a Democratic plants — a claim Graves has vehemently denied. Graves countered by saying he would not have gone through the trouble of campaigning or filing the lawsuit if he truly did not want the four-year post.
Cleveland later brushed off Friday's ruling as "procedural in nature, not substantive."
He pointed to Hoffman's statements supporting political parties' right to conduct their own affairs and promised to continue to pursue the case. Cleveland then reiterated his refusal to recognize Graves as a committeeman.
Graves defeated the late Danny Carbol, also a Mount Greenwood resident. He claims party leaders wanted Carbol for the unpaid post. The last-minute rule change aimed to disqualify Graves, paving the way for Carbol to be appointed after the election.
Attorney Stephen Boulton left the courtroom abruptly Friday after receiving the ruling. The GOP attorney previously said the case isn't some personal vendetta against Graves. Rather, the case is based on Cook County and Chicago GOP leaders attempts to protect the party from a "storm" of Democrats posing as Republicans.
Grave's attorney Kevin Sterk said the court case is not over just yet. He was planning to set another date for Hoffman to issue a final judgemental on the issue. Sterk also expects the Republicans to appeal the latest decision. Still, he remained confident.
"It's the fourth inning of the baseball game. You can't change the rules," Sterk said, applying the sports metaphor to Graves' case.
Graves has never denied that he was once a Democrat, saying Ronald Reagan wasn't always a conservative either. Likewise, he claims to have changed his stripes in recent years, drawn to the Republican side by the party's efforts to fund the military, lower taxes, shrink the size of government and stand behind the anti-abortion movement.
In fact, he believes that winning over former Democrats like himself is the only way the GOP can make any headway in Cook County. Graves received 2,115 of the 3,988 votes cast for 19th Ward Republican committeeman.
Graves added that Friday was a step in the right direction. And he is well aware that the decision does not mean Republicans will ask for his opinions or allow him to vote on issues going forward.
"You don't want me in your little club, fine." Graves said. "But don't tell me that I didn't win."