JEFFERSON PARK — The heated race to lead the 45th Ward is now a head-to-head battle between Ald. Jim Gardiner and Megan Mathias.
Gardiner and Mathias were the top two vote-getters in a crowded race to unseat the incumbent, who has been under intense scrutiny for months after a series of scandals.
The results of the Feb. 28 election were in flux for weeks as Gardiner hovered around the mark required to win the race outright.
Results made official this week showed Gardiner received 7,683 votes, or 48 percent of the vote, leading to the runoff. Mathias was his closest challenger with 2,699 votes, or 16.8 percent of the vote.
The runoff election is April 4.
The ward covers parts of Old Irving Park, Portage Park, Jefferson Park, Gladstone Park, parts of Edgebrook, Wildwood and small parts of Norwood Park.
More on each candidate:
Gardiner was elected in 2019 after defeating former Ald. John Arena. He is on leave from the Fire Department, where he’s an EMT.
Gardiner earned a teaching degree from St. Xavier University in 2002 while he was an ironworker with Local 399 Stationary. He was also a special education teacher at Curie High School and a substitute at other schools before joining the Fire Department.
After being elected, Gardiner killed participatory budgeting and projects slated to receive funding under Arena, using the money for street repairs, speed cameras and to address flooding issues.
The alderman has said he’s brought more businesses and development to the ward, including redevelopments at Six Corners that include a massive overhaul at the former Sears site and a senior housing complex opening this spring.
Gardiner is facing lawsuits and a 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.
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.
Gardiner did not return a phone call seeking comment about the runoff or campaign goals.
In a previous statement, Gardiner said his reelection campaign is being run with “merit that addresses the needs and concerns of residents while building upon the many achievements that have been accomplished since being elected.”
“The 45th Ward is thriving due to the collaborative efforts of community stakeholders in the last three years,” Gardiner said. “In fact, we are witnessing $475 million of new developments $14 million of infrastructure improvements while creating hundreds of union and permanent jobs.”
Gardiner has support from various police and firefighter unions, and he has rasied more than $221,000, election records show. His top donor is the Fire Department’s Local 2 union, which gave nearly $50,000, records show.
Mathias, an Old Irving Park resident and attorney, announced her candidacy in September 2021, nearly 18 months before the election.
Originally from Michigan, Mathias has lived in Chicago since 2000 and in the 45th Ward since 2014. The single mother of three has a law firm in Old Irving Park, Lopp Mathias Law.
Mathias’ home was drawn out of the ward in last year’s remap, but she will move back into the new territory if she wins, she said.
Mathias wants to find common ground amid the ward’s political divisions and focus on economic revitalization, supporting working families, increased affordable housing, addressing public safety and educational support, she said.
“I think I am the right kind of leader to bring to the 45th Ward, to unify the ward but also to bring substantive actions on big topics,” Mathias said Thursday.
Mathias, who comes from a union family, also supports law enforcement and first responders, she said.
Mathias worked for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund in Washington, D.C., in the ’90s and has represented police officers in civil litigation throughout her career, she said. She also helped form a law enforcement motorcycle club about 12 years ago in Chicago.
Mathias’ public safety plan includes hiring retired officers for a more community-driven approach to safety, which would alleviate the burden on officer shortages citywide. She also is a proponent of investing in more mental health services for officers and residents, she said.
Mathias has represented victims of domestic violence and sexual violence, which includes stalking and harassment, she said. Leading up to the Feb. 28 election, Mathias publicly blasted Gardiner’s leadership style and noted he’s faced allegations of retaliation and mistreatment toward women.
“I’ve spent the majority of my 20-year career as an attorney fighting bullies,” Mathias previously said. “I’m running to put a stop to this abuse of power and this harassment of our neighbors and our residents and to put a stop to that kind of leadership on our neighborhood.”
Mathias received attention and endorsements for her small business incubator and community center, which would use funding from the city and other agencies to better support small business owners.
On Thursday, Mathias said she’s optimistic about the runoff and hopes residents vote for her based on her track record and ward priorities.
Previous 45th ward candidates Susanna Ernst and James Suh endorsed Mathias, as well as Northwest Side leaders like Cook County commissioners Bridget Degnen and Josina Morita, Rep. Lindsey LaPointe, Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Samantha Steele and Rep. Jan Schakowsky.
“These endorsements reflect a concerted effort to usher new leadership into the 45th Ward,” she said. “By establishing a message of unity, this coalition of support will further galvanize our campaign’s vigorous momentum heading into the runoff election.”
Mathias has gotten more than $123,000 in campaign donations, and Chicago Land Operators Joint Labor Management PAC and herself are top donors.
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