Ald. James M. Gardiner (45th) paces at a City Council meeting on Sept. 14, 2021. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

CHICAGO — In the wake of a series of misconduct allegations against Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th), several politicians and progressive activists are calling on ActBlue, a major Democratic fundraising site, to remove him from its platform.

In a letter issued last week shared with Block Club, at least a dozen elected officials, former candidates and political consultants from the Chicagoland area said they want Gardiner removed from the fundraising platform after news broke that he used misogynistic and sexist language in leaked text messages toward constituents, fellow colleagues and city hall staffers. He’s also been accused of retaliating against residents and business owners who criticized him.

The group of signees also want the alderman removed in light of the ongoing FBI investigation against him and failure to advance Democratic causes, the letter states.

“We find Alderman Gardiner to be Chicago’s very own Donald Trump and believe that Act Blue should immediately remove him from this progressive platform,” the letter reads. “His right-wing allies, misogynistic tendencies and how he conducts himself while holding elected office are simply disgusting.”

Nick J. Daggers, a founding partner for 1833 Group, a national firm that provides fundraising support for Democrats and progressive causes based in Chicago, wrote the letter and is organizing the effort. He hopes at least 20 people sign it before it gets sent to the executive director of the site.

He said aside from the misogynistic language used by the alderman and treatment of constituents he disagrees with, Gardiner’s political leanings are conservative, not progressive.

“Looking at Gardiner’s conservative voting record, he stands [with] the right plank… if he wants to do this, that’s fine, but don’t use the platform that we Democrats have been organizing on over the years,” Daggers said.

Gardiner, who was elected in 2019, was an independent but joined the Democratic Party
before running for office. He became the 45th Ward Democratic Committeeperson in 2020 for the Cook County Democratic Party.

“Gardiner only pretends to be a Democrat when it is politically convenient,” the letter reads. “For example, while running for office in 2019, he claimed to be an independent. During that same campaign, he was supported by multiple prominent Chicago Republicans, including local GOP committeemen who circulated petitions on his behalf.”

Ald. Jim Gardiner at City Council on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

In August, ActBlue cut ties with then-governor of New York Andrew Cuomo after he was accused of widespread sexual harassment. Daggers said this move was the impetus to start the letter and circulate it in his political network.

The letter is a “good step to police the platform to make sure it’s for Democrats and progressives,” he said. “It’s more than a party, it’s a movement.” 

State Reps. Delia Ramirez, Jan Schakowsky, Kelly Cassidy and Illinois State Representative Dagmara Avelarare and Illinois Democratic County Chairs Association President Kristina Zahorik, are among the 16 who have signed the letter, as well as representatives from local political consulting companies.

“This man has shown complete contempt for women forever,” Cassidy previously told Block Club. She has also been outspoken on social media about the allegations against Gardiner.

Daggers said he hopes at least 25 people will sign the letter.

Though no City Council members have signed the letter yet, nearly half of the alderman’s colleagues signed another letter condemning Gardiner for using foul language seen in the texts.

There has also been a formal complaint filed within the Cook County Democratic Party regarding his actions, and an investigation by the inspector general of the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office is underway after allegations that his staff improperly obtained court documents to retaliate against another constituent.

Fellow freshman Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd), who recently called on Gardiner to resign on Twitter, circulated a resolution through Council chambers last week calling for the Committee on Committees, Rules and Ethics to hold a hearing concerning Gardiner’s actions. The resolution calls for Gardiner to testify during the hearing. 

Also last week, The Board of Ethics announced that Gardiner violated anti-retaliation rules in the city’s ethics code and could face up to $10,000 in fines for both allegations, should the board act.

Representatives from ActBlue did not immediately return requests for comment. Gardiner also did not return requests for comment.

The letter isn’t the first time the alderman’s behavior has been compared Trump’s.

In June, the alderman was sued by six of his critics for allegedly deleting comments or blocking people he disagrees with on his government page.

Trump was known to also block critics on his personal Twitter account while in office, which he used to share political information. In 2019, the Supreme Court ruled he could not legally block people on his government account. The decision was upheld by lower courts in 2020.

Kathleen Held, a resident whom Ald. James M. Gardiner (45th) allegedly referred to as a “b–tch” in a text message, poses for a photo as a few dozen residents gathered outside the alderman’s office Sept. 13, 2021, demanding that he resign amid recent scandals. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Trump’s history of misogyny, sexism and harassment is also comparable to Gardiner’s behavior toward women, his constituents say. Kathleen Held, a longtime 45th Ward resident who was believed to be one of the women Gardiner called a ‘b-tch’ in the leaked text messages, said more elected officials need to stand up against his actions.

“As a proud feminist, I am deeply frustrated that men continue to achieve positions of power despite having this in their background,” Held said. “I was disappointed in his supporters then and you are seeing it now, [they] write this off as the ‘Trump defense’ [that] this is just locker room talk. This is not locker room talk. This man is an abuser of women.”

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