Chicago City Council members running for re-election are subject to referendums while in office, but in the 45th Ward Ald on the Northwest Side. Challengers' criticisms of Jim Gardiner go far beyond the usual complaints about crime, business development and potholes.
As Gardiner seeks re-election after a scandal-filled first term, he is deluged with questions about his fitness and temperament from five hopefuls.
His time in public office was marred by allegations that he used his power as councilor to attack political opponents, includingA federal investigation said whether heHe tried to withhold neighborhood services from some residents who defied his agenda.
In 2021, he took the highly unusual step of apologizing to the council after leaked texts showed he used profane and offensive language to describe a gay colleague, a city official and a political adviser. And just earlier this month, an affidavitwas made publicin a federal lawsuit against Gardiner that detailed how a former aide said last fall that the city council was obsessed with Facebook criticism and promised to rid the district of its critics, who he described as "rats."
[Search to find out what neighborhood, community area, and neighborhood you live in in Chicago]
Gardiner did not respond to requests for an interview. In an emailed response to questions, he said he faces "a coordinated effort to harass, embarrass, intimidate and mislead voters in the 45th Ward," myself and my supporters.
"Let me be clear, I have not attacked anyone for criticizing my representation of him in office and I believe everyone has the right to freely choose their elected representative. I have never used the services of a voter," he said in the emailed statement.
The Tribune reported in 2021 that federal law enforcement had spoken with dozens of people about whether Gardiner retaliated against voters for political reasons, and that officials even reached out to Gardiner himself. Gardiner said in his email response who was not interviewed by federal investigators.
[Chicago Ald. Jim Gardiner publicly apologizes for his 'speech' a day after sources identified him as the subject of an FBI investigation: 'I take full responsibility for my offensive words']
But that hasn't stopped some of the criticism, as opponents say their campaigns are largely fueled by Gardiner's "division" and the way he is said to have fragmented unity across a vast space.
"Honestly, he's in this situation where five people stand up to him because of their own fault," said Marija Tomic, one of the contestants. "It's not my fault. It's not the other candidates' fault."
Controversy has dogged Gardiner for much of his term as alderman and continues into the current campaign.
Tomic said Gardiner tried in November to intimidate a campaign volunteer who was collecting signatures in the Norwood Park neighborhood to put Tomic on the ballot. He also harassed a resident who signed the petition to vote, Tomic said.
"The fact that he's done this in the past and continues to do this, I don't think he really learned his lesson," he said. "I think it's inherent behavior for him and it's unfortunate that he's still an elected official."
James Suh, a resident of the district and owner of a car cleaning business in the area, said he became involved in this campaign, his first after filing a lawsuit against Gardiner in 2021, alleging that the city council colluded to the old man's arrest records. Suh to share on social media. media. Suh campaign spokeswoman Rebecca Williams said Suh was arrested when he was 17 after his brother called police during an argument and dropped the charges. Suh said Gardiner's threat was retaliation for organizing a demonstration against Gardiner's decision to stop a housing development at the neighborhood's Six Corners intersection.
The city's Board of Ethics found a likely reason why Gardiner attempted to leak Suh's records and referred the matter to the city's Office of Inspector General for further investigation. Suh said Gardiner's decision to appoint him to the rally shows the city council's misunderstood understanding of its constituents.
[Former Ald aide in trouble. Jim Gardiner Testifies He Called Critics "Rats" and Vows to Get Rid of Them]
"Everyone's motives were simply for the good of our community, and we just want to see things in a better place," said Suh. “When I did this rally, it was specifically to revitalize the area to see progress and investment in our neighborhood. It wasn't about attacking Gardiner at all. So I think anything you have against him is very much him."
Gardiner said in his emailed response that many of the allegations he faces amounted to a "smear campaign" by "a small contingent of politically connected individuals, some of whom have their own political ambitions".
The district has some of the lowest crime rates in the city. But defiant Megan Mathias said that in addition to the argumentative climate Gardiner has fostered, she must also be responsible for a rise in crime and her lack of engagement with local residents who want a say in how these and other issues are addressed.
"It is clear that public safety (for voters) is a priority," Mathias said. "The community is very hungry for a community voice... They're not getting any information about anything."
Susanna Ernst, a historic preservationist and longtime neighborhood activist on the Northwest Side, said the antagonism of the "two camps" under Gardiner also affected the neighborhood's business growth and other opportunities for improvement.
"Just in terms of the climate here in District 45, there seems to be a lot of division right now, a lot of 'us versus them' and I think it's time to create a more cohesive and friendly environment where all the community groups are." come together and work together throughout our neighborhood,” said Ernst. "I think there are definitely ways we can work together in a very respectful way, and anyone who wants to encourage community initiatives has the opportunity to do that."
Ana Santoyo has joined the race to push for more affordable housing and police reform, which she says the district badly needs. Santoyo, a member of the Socialism and Liberation Party, said members of the northwest's working class needed a representative to defend them on the city council.
"Personally, I believe that individuals and families in this area should not be dependent on someone like the current city council to vote for city hall," Santoyo said. “Right now, we are still in a pandemic. Workers know their material situation. We know we need things like better jobs in our district, better paying jobs, better and more affordable housing, and safer schools.”
Like most Chicago neighborhoods, the 45th includes parts of several boroughs. Compared to most, it has seen a particularly large swing of the political pendulum lately. Gardiner, a Chicago Fire Department paramedic, won Ald in 2019 over John Arena, who was one of the most progressive voices on the City Council for two terms.
Chicago's new neighborhood map
Not sure which neighborhood you live in? Enter your address in the search box below.
Source: City of Chicago
Arena's downfall was due in large part to his support of an affordable housing project near the CTA Blue Line in the Jefferson Park neighborhood's bungalow belt. Years of debate about this development,which was approved before Arena left office, exposed what proponents described as racial opposition to the construction of housing units for low-income minority families in one of Chicago's whitest neighborhoods.
In the space where many police and firefighters live, anti-arena sentiment has spread through Gardiner. He practically won in a four-way race.
This year's election is taking place in the 45th Ward, where the contours may be even more to Gardiner's liking. Last year, he and other Northwest Side board members joined the Black Caucus and other board members to assert themselves.a new map of Chicago's 50 boroughsin connection with the 2020 US Census,despite the objections of several Latinosaldermen
The new 45th Ward removes portions of the Old Irving Park and Independence Park neighborhoods at the borough's southern end that were formerly arena strongholds. Instead, the boundaries run north to include the Far Northwest Side neighborhoods of Wildwood and Edgebrook, which became more conservative in the last election.
Mathias, a lawyer who had previously announced her intention to oppose Gardiner, saw her home on the map in Old Irving Park, on the outskirts of the new neighborhood. Mathias remained in the race despite possibly falling victim to an old Chicago political ploy designed to scare opponents and has said that she will return to the district if she wins.
"People know I work out there," he said. "It wasn't surprising (being mapped out of space). It was disappointing but not surprising."
In his email response, Gardiner said that if was re-elected and plans to build "on the foundation of our district's improved economic infrastructure", working with the police department to improve public safety and trying to find alternative revenue streams to curb rising property taxes for residents .
Tomic said he doubted changes to the periphery of the 45 Gardiners would improve the chances.
"I don't think there's much he can do for space if nobody wants him," he said.