Gardiner wins 45th Ward aldermanic seat, promises open zoning process
by BRIAN NADIG
It will never be known if 45th Ward aldermanic candidate Jim Gardiner met his goal of visiting every home in the ward, but he apparently knocked on enough doors to defeat two-term incumbent John Arena to become the ward’s new alderman.
Gardiner, a Chicago firefighter, pulled off a stunning upset by defeating the well-financed campaign of Arena, who was backed by the Service Employees International Union and the Chicago Teachers Union. Gardiner himself was endorsed by 27 building trade, police and firefighter unions.
Gardiner received 7,554 votes, or 50.96 percent of the total votes cast, Arena received 5,370 votes, or 36.23 percent, Chicago Park District regional manger Marilyn Morales received 1,349 votes, or 9.10 percent, and former Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association president Robert Bank received 550 votes, or 3.71 percent, according to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.
Gardiner won 33 of the ward’s 48 precincts and received the most votes in the northern half of the ward, including the western portion of Jefferson Park and Gladstone Park. Arena’s strength was in Independence Park and Old Irving Park.
Gardiner said that his victory was the result of the campaign’s many volunteers, including "strangers" whom he had only recently met and who accompanied him on cold days on the campaign trail.
"We’re going to roll with the punches (and) do what’s best for our community," he said after a Feb. 28 meeting with some of the ward’s community leaders.
"We’re disappointed in the results, but I’m incredibly proud of the work we’ve done to build an inclusive, diverse and safe community. I will continue to look forward to finding places to work to continue to move our community forward," Arena said in a statement on election night.
Bank congratulated Gardiner and said that the ward was desperate for new leadership. "I have high hopes that the alderman’s office will be respectful of their constituents," he said.
Morales said, "From the onset I always said the campaign was not about me, but my message. I pledge now to work with our incoming new alderman Jim Gardiner to promote the 45th Ward as a model ward to all of Chicago. I ask that you join me too in working for active civic participation, appreciation and respect for our diversity and that we stand alongside alderman Gardiner to be the change we want to see in our ward."
Since his re-election in 2015, Arena has been at the center of several zoning-related controversies in the ward, including a seven-story, mixed-income proposal at 5150 N. Northwest Hwy. and a 16-story, mixed-use building at 4849 N. Lipps Ave. At a public hearing at City Hall last year, Arena told residents to vote him out of office if they did not like his zoning decisions.
The Northwest Highway proposal set off a firestorm of debate on social media, and a group of residents raised $40,000 to fund an unsuccessful legal challenge to a settlement agreement, which cleared the way for the housing proposal. The development, which is contingent on the issuance of low-income housing tax credits, would include a mix of Chicago Housing Authority-subsidized, market-rate and affordable housing units.
Arena’s office kept a list of about 80 current and retired government workers who expressed opposition to the proposal on social media, and Arena has sought disciplinary action against dozens of them for making what he said were "racially charged" comments about the project. In some instances, city workers compared the development to Cabrini Green or criticized the alderman.
In an interview, a different alderman had said that Arena was playing with fire by keeping a list of enemies and having complaints filed against as many as 31 police officers and 15 firefighters given the significant number of city workers who live on the Northwest Side. "You’re going after their livelihood," the alderman said of Arena’s actions.
Arena has sometimes worked on zoning proposals for months with developers and the ward’s advisory committee, whose meetings are closed to the public, and waited as long as a year to notify constituents about the proposal. Gardiner has said that his advisory committee meetings would be open to the public.
In the last 2 months, Arena’s campaign focused on the Ed Burke scandal, touting in campaign mailers his efforts to bring more transparency and accountability to the City Council.
Arena, who was once the vice president of the Portage Park Neighborhood Association, has served on the City Council since 2011, when he defeated Chicago police lieutenant John Garrido by 30 votes in a runoff election.
Arena also defeated Garrido in the 2015 runoff election.