JEFFERSON PARK — Ald. Jim Gardiner has taken a huge lead in his bid for reelection in the 45th Ward, but has not yet secured enough votes to avoid a runoff.
With 28 of 29 precincts reporting Tuesday night, the incumbent held nearly 49 percent of the vote to his closest challenger, Megan Mathias, with about 16 percent of the vote. Portage Park business owner James Suh came in close behind her, receiving 14.8 percent of the vote.
Candidates must get at least 50 percent to avoid a runoff.
The ward covers parts of Old Irving Park, Portage Park, Jefferson Park, Gladstone Park, parts of Edgebrook, Wildwood and small parts of Norwood Park.
Gardiner did not immediately return a call for comment Wednesday, but Mathias was optimistic despite the incumbent’s big lead.
There are 2,331 outstanding vote-by-mail ballots that must be counted in the ward, election officials said.
“We feel good … Second place is the win,” Mathias said Wednesday. “That is where we wanted to be.”
Mathias is confident the race will head into a runoff and is proud of her campaign and all her volunteers who helped get her to second place, she said.
Should there be a runoff, she plans to reach out to the other challengers and find common ground on shared concerns that could help her chances in beating Gardiner, she said.
The race has been heated and contentious at times, with five challengers vying for the City Council seat. Fellow candidates Ana Santoyo, a longtime activist and library page, received 5.09 percent of the vote as of Tuesday night; organizer and historian Susanna Ernst received 11.83 of the vote and Jefferson Park resident Marija Tomic came in with 3.58 percent.
Gardiner, who is under federal criminal investigation and has faced a slew of scandals in his first term, was elected in 2019 after beating former Ald. John Arena.
He is on leave from the Fire Department, where he’s an EMT.
The alderman has touted his role in bringing more businesses and development to the ward, including a massive overhaul at the former Sears site and a senior housing complex opening this spring.
But he’s received serious opposition from his challengers and constituents in the last four years. He is facing multiple lawsuits and scandals after allegations he withheld ward services from critics, used foul language to describe women and other potential misconduct. 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.
Late last year, video surfaced of the alderman confronting a challenger’s campaign volunteers as they gathered signatures from Norwood Park residents. His challengers said he’s not stopped intimidating those who oppose him while campaigning.
Some constituents and council members have called on Gardiner to resign amid the controversies. He also had an order of protection against him by a former girlfriend.
In depositions made public last month, a former staffer said the alderman went out of his way to silence opponents and obsessed over critical comments on his ward’s Facebook page.
Texts between Gardiner and his former aide from 2019 also revealed how he used his aldermanic influence to send city inspectors after critics, including business owners.
Gardiner denied this in his own deposition. His campaign claims he is the victim of a “multi-layered campaign of political harassment, misinformation and intimidation by people unwilling to accept the defeat of the previous administration four years ago.”
Gardiner received heavy support from police and firefighter unions, as well as individual donations from people like Willie Wilson, who donated $10,000 to the alderman’s campaign.
Should there be a runoff, it will take place April 4.
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