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Jefferson Park, Portage Park, Norwood Park

Portage Park Business Owner, Community Advocate James Suh Joins Race To Unseat Ald. Jim Gardiner

Suh joins four challengers who are hoping to be on the ballot for 45th ward alderperson in next year's election.

Local business owner James Suh poses for a portrait across the street from the Clarendale development, 4747 W. Irving Park Rd., at the Six Corners in Portage Park on Sept. 8, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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PORTAGE PARK — A Northwest Side business owner, parent and community activist has joined a growing list of candidates who want to oust Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th) in next year’s election.

James Suh, an Old Irving Park resident and owner of Car Care Auto Spa at 3618 N. Cicero Ave., has filed to run for 45th ward alderperson. He submitted his 1,400 signatures Monday to be on the ballot after just three weeks of door-knocking, he said.

Suh, who has lived and worked on the Northwest Side for nearly a decade, is a member of Disney II Magnet school’s local school council and a member of the school’s Parent-Teacher Association.

“My wife and I are raising our two kids here; we’re sending them to the public school down the street. My business is less than half a mile away from Six Corners. I’m fully invested in this community,” Suh said. “We’ve faced so many challenges, so I do want to see a change for the better, and I want to be a part of that change.”

Suh is focusing his campaign on increasing economic and community development in the ward, addressing crime and public safety with more support for police officers and offering a change in leadership with transparency and fairness toward constituents, he said.

Last month, Suh received widespread media attention for fending off a gun-wielding robber who attempted to steal from his car shop after hours. The incident, which was first reported by Block Club and was caught on video, influenced his decision to declare his campaign, he said.

People “feel that their elected officials are out of touch, that they’re just not listening” to issues of crime, he said. “Because of my experience, people know that I share their concerns and they know that I’ll share what they have to say.”

Suh’s community activism has focused on highlighting economic development in the ward, holding public officials accountable and helping people experiencing homelessness.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Business owner James Suh smiles while Sara Gronkiewicz-Doran, secretary of United Northwest Side, speaks as a few dozen residents gathered outside Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th)’s office Sept. 13, 2021, demanding that he resign amid recent scandals.

In 2019, Suh organized a Six Corners protest that brought more than 150 people to the busy intersection after Gardiner stalled plans to move forward with development plans at The Point, 4747 W. Irving Park Road. They called on Gardiner to put anything on the prominent corner.

The site is now The Clarendale, a senior living complex scheduled to open in April after supply delays, Gardiner previously said.

Suh had been a vocal critic of Gardiner since he was elected, and the protest infuriated the alderman, according to a former staffer. Days after the protest, the mother of a Gardiner staffer pulled Suh’s dismissed police records in retaliation, according to text messages between the alderman and his former aid shared previously with Block Club.

Suh said the court cases involved a 1998 fight and a 2007 charge for possession of a pocket knife — both dismissed years ago.

Suh sued Gardiner last year for allegedly violating his First Amendment rights and for attempted retaliation.

The case is moving forward on the two claims after judge Allison C. Conlon denied the motion to dismiss from Gardiner’s attorneys, who wanted the entire case thrown out, according to court documents filed Nov. 18.

Gardiner is facing multiple lawsuits and a series of allegations that include withholding ward services from his critics, using foul language to describe women and other potential misconduct.

Gardiner was elected in 2019 and is seeking a second term. He has $206,536 in his reelection campaign coffers, according to the most recent campaign disclosure report filed with the Illinois Board of Elections.

Besides Suh, four other challengers to Gardiner filed paperwork with the Chicago Board of Elections seeking the 45th Ward seat.

Portage Park resident Ana Santoyo, a longtime activist and library page, threw her name into the ring in October. Jefferson Park organizer and historian Susanna Ernst announced her candidacy in September, and Old Irving Park resident and attorney Megan Mathias was the first to join the race last year. Jefferson Park resident Marija Tomic also is running.

“The more choices, the better,” Suh said. “People should have the ability to vote for whomever they want in a race and have that vote count towards the overall outcome.”