NORWOOD PARK — Ald. Jim Gardiner is again under investigation after a volunteer for one of his challengers said the alderperson threatened to punch him.
Parts of the argument were caught on video and shared with Block Club. The video shows two volunteers for Marija Tomic, who is running against Gardiner, speaking to a woman and a child outside of a Norwood Park home Nov. 26 when Gardiner drives up with someone and gets out of the car to talk to the canvassers.
The anonymously-run Northwest Side political watchdog blog The People’s Fabric was first to publish the video.
After the woman signs the petition, Gardiner spends a few minutes speaking with the canvassers before the woman, child and a canvasser walk away, the video shows.
Andrij Skyba, a canvasser for Tomic who was present at the time, said Gardiner accused him and other volunteers of lying about him to the woman who signed the petition.
Skyba told Gardiner that was not true and tried to walk away, he said.
“If you’re gonna run a campaign, run a clean campaign,” Gardiner is heard saying to Skyba and others.
The woman and child tried to get in their car to leave, but Gardiner blocked the driver’s side, asking why she signed the opposing petition, Skyba said.
“That’s pretty much where he started to get upset,” Tomic told Block Club. Tomic did not witness the incident, but her volunteers told her about it, she said.
Volunteers and the woman who signed the petition told Gardiner to leave and to “back off,” but the alderman tried to intimidate them by getting close to their faces, Skyba said.
“He’s red-faced, clenched fist, and he gets into it with another volunteer, right into him, like, ‘What are you looking at?'” Skyba said.
The Ring camera video, provided to sources by the homeowner, doesn’t show that. Sources said it happened out of view of the camera.
“It was not a pretty scene at all,” Skyba said.
The video then shows Gardiner and the other person heading back to their car. But the alderman turned around after one of Tomic’s volunteers said, “I can’t believe you’re doing this,” meaning questioning a constituent over her signature and stopping the canvassers to harass them, Tomic and Skyba said.
Gardiner then walks toward the volunteer, yelling “Run a clean campaign; know what you’re talking about,” the video shows.
Skyba told police and Block Club he thought Gardiner said he was going to hit him at that point.
No injuries were reported, and detectives are investigating, police said.
The woman who signed the petition did not return requests for comment.
“It was very intimidating,” Skyba said. “The way I saw it, it was steam coming out of his ears. … He was looking to provoke, and neither I nor the other volunteers were going to give it to him.”
The incident made Gardiner look unprofessional, and he should be ashamed of his actions — especially in front of a young child, Skyba said.
The experience is the second time Skyba has been threatened while collecting petitions for Tomic, he said. A few weeks ago, a man yelled at him to get off his lawn after he asked for signatures, he said.
Skyba also filed a police report about the incident, he said.
Tomic said she is not sure why Gardiner approached her team, but he should not be intimidating volunteers or constituents.
“The fact that he’s intimidating volunteers, as well as the constituents, threw me off as I’m sure others, because he’s under investigation,” Tomic said. “This isn’t the time to behave that way. I mean, we know he has it in him but I’m as shocked as everyone else.”
Tomic said Gardiner could have also been collecting signatures in the area, since Norwood Park recently became part of the 45th Ward under the new remap.
In a statement sent to Block Club, Gardiner called the video “highly edited” and a “desperate attempt to gain leverage while diverting attention from relevant issues affecting our community” but did not answer specific questions about the incident.
The video was “not edited at all,” Skyba said.
The videos obtained by Block Club do not appear to be edited.
The same day, after the incident, Tomic saw Gardiner in the area while stopped at a red light.
“He waved at me, which I thought was weird because I didn’t know he knew what I drove,” Tomic said.
Tomic said she asked Gardiner about the argument and he told her he did nothing wrong.
The incident again shows the alderman is a “loose cannon,” Tomic said.
“It’s disheartening to know that he is supposed to be in charge of our ward,” she said.
Tomic, who lives in Jefferson Park, is one of five people hoping to unseat the embattled aldermen in next year’s election.
The FBI, the Chicago Board of Ethics, the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office and the Office of the Inspector General have launched investigations into Gardiner’s conduct in office.
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.