CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot is calling for the city’s Office of the Inspector General to investigate Ald. Jim Gardiner after a series of scandals over his leaked texts.
Lightfoot said her office is organizing Friday to recommend Gardiner’s actions be investigated by the top city watchdog.
The mayor’s call comes as leaked text messages from Gardiner show he tried to get revenge on residents who criticized him, called a constituent a “c-nt” and tried to deny her city services and called a fellow alderman and a city worker “b-tch,” among other things.
“No one should ever be denied access to city services because of their political opinion, whom they may have supported in an election. That’s just not how we do things,” Lightfoot said at an unrelated news conference Friday morning. “We’re never gonna support any effort to deny people access to city services. It’s fundamental.”
This week, more than two dozen aldermen signed a letter condemning Gardiner for using sexist, foul language to describe colleagues and constituents in leaked texts. There has also been a formal complaint filed within the Cook County Democratic Party regarding his actions.
But more needs to be done, Lightfoot said.
“What I think ought to happen is, and we’re doing this, this morning, is recommending that rather than death by 1,000 cuts in rumor and innuendo in the media, there ought to be a fullsome investigation,” Lightfoot said. “We’re gonna recommend to the Inspector General’s Office that, that investigation happen so we can actually get to the bottom of what did happen versus what didn’t happen.”
Already, a watchdog for the county’s Clerk of the Circuit Court’s office is looking into whether Gardiner used his authority to improperly access 23-year-old court records belonging to a Portage Park business owner who dared to question him publicly.
Lightfoot said she spoke to Gardiner — who is married to one of the mayor’s former aides — more than a week ago about his behavior, when the scandals focused on “disparaging conduct and comments about women.” She told him the words attributed to him were “absolutely unacceptable.”
Now that more reports have shown Gardiner also tried to withhold services from residents and to punish critics, a full investigation needs to be done, Lightfoot said.
“There are certain words that should never, ever, ever be said or written — and definitely not about women. That’s not acceptable,” Lightfoot said. “Under no circumstances, any circumstances, should a resident be denied access to city services simply because of their political choice or affiliation. That’s not OK, either.”
Gardiner’s short time in office has been plagued by issues: The alderman and his staff also have allegedly lashed out at his critics by falsifying complaints and city tickets, refusing to help a constituent, forcing resignations from a longtime Six Corners neighborhood group and blocking residents on his government Facebook page, which has led to a lawsuit.
But the most recent scandal erupted last week, when a former Gardiner staffer released texts from Gardiner.
The texts showed Gardiner had called Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), the city’s first openly gay alderman, a “b-tch” and “f-cking snake.” He also said, “F-ck him,” about Tunney.
Texts showed Gardiner also referred to Anne Emerson, chief of staff for the City Council Committee on Finance, as Ald. Scott Waguespack’s “b-tch.” Waguespack (32nd) chairs the committee.
In another batch of text messages, first reported by CBS Chicago, Gardiner called Joanna Klonsky, a political communications consultant who works with Lightfoot, a “dumb b-tch.”
Gardiner apologized to Tunney and Waguespack. But Emerson and Klonsky said they requested an in-person meeting with Gardiner — and have been ignored.
More texts showed Gardiner sought to withhold city services from residents who had criticized him and used the words “c-nt” and “b-tch” to refer to female residents.
And on Friday, Block Club Chicago reported on three residents who faced Gardiner’s wrath after criticizing the alderman.
Jefferson Park mom Bella Ventresca had city inspectors sent to her home because — as a former Gardiner staffer said — the alderman marked her as an enemy for making a comment about Gardiner’s stalking case on a closed Facebook page for mothers.
James Suh organized a protest, calling for Gardiner to develop a prominent corner in the ward. Text messages between the alderman and his then-staffer shared with Block Club Chicago show Gardiner had old police reports pertaining to Suh and planned to leak the records to a neighborhood Facebook group that backs the alderman.
Suh said the court cases involved a 1998 fight and a 2007 charge for possession of a pocket knife — both dismissed years ago.
“No private citizen should ever be targeted by an elected official simply for exercising free speech, especially when that official abuses his position to obtain information in an illegal fashion,” Suh said. “I, along with many others, have the sole aim of a healthy and thriving Six Corners community. I am shocked and saddened that that engagement somehow invited retaliation.”
The texts also prompted an internal investigation at the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office as to how and why the records about Suh were accessed.
And Gus Karamaniolas, owner of the old Fischman Public House that closed at the end of 2019, said Gardiner came to his business after he was elected and told Karamaniolas to apologize for Facebook comments he’d made that were critical of the alderman.
“He threatened me, saying, ‘You know your business could one day not be here,’ and weeks later I had inspectors coming in my place,” Karamaniolas said.
Karamaniolas said Gardiner came to the business a second time and again threatened not to help the owners get a sidewalk permit license or new awnings unless Karamaniolas apologized for his previous comments.
Aside from the tense encounter, Karamaniolas said Gardiner sent his ward superintendent to Fischman’s to ticket the business for having trash outside of its garbage bins in the alley — but he accidentally ticketed the next-door building’s bins instead.
Gardiner’s former staffer said the alderman personally went to the bar’s alley and took photos of the bins, which he texted to the aide.
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