Mayor Lightfoot calls for investigation into Alderman Gardiner’s use of demeaning language toward women in texts, reports of retaliation toward his critics
by BRIAN NADIG
Mayor Lori Lightfoot has called for the city Inspector General to investigate Alderman James Gardiner (45th) following the release of private text messages between Gardiner and a former ward staffer in which demeaning remarks were made about several people and retaliation reportedly was sought against some critics.
At a Sept. 10 news conference, Lightfoot said that the language used by Gardiner is “absolutely unacceptable” and that “under no circumstances” should constituents be denied a city service because of their political beliefs.
“Rather than death by 1,000 cuts in rumor and innuendo in the media, there ought to be (a thorough investigation),” she said.
In the messages, Gardiner referred to several people, including an alderman, as a “b****” and in one instance Gardiner reportedly wrote “f*** that c***” in reference to a resident who had contacted the ward office.
The resident said earlier today that the service requests, which included addressing a water leak near a water meter and a sinkhole-related issue, were addressed. She added that she is not aware of all of the details of the conversations which took place between Gardiner and the former staffer and did not want to comment further.
The released messages also include disparaging remarks which Gardiner wrote about City Council Finance Committee chief of staff Anne Emerson, communications/political strategist Joanna Klonsky and Alderman Tom Tunney (44th). All three were referred to as a b**** in the texts.
Klonsky and Emerson have asked Gardiner for an in-person meeting to discuss the matter, while Tunney has said that Gardiner has apologized and that he is moving on. Klonsky said that Gardiner has demonstrated a “disturbing habit of degrading women” and should seek counseling.
On Sept. 3, Gardiner released the following statement: “I am sorry for my comments; they do not reflect my values. I have reached out to my colleagues and others to express my sincere regrets. I respect all people and apologize to those I may have offended.”
In addition, CBS News and WTTW News reported late this week that a Gardiner supporter, who works for a city department, may have asked a relative in the Cook County Circuit Court Clerk’s office to obtain the criminal court records of a man who had been critical of Gardiner and that a text message shows that Gardiner was seeking to have the man’s previous criminal charges, one of which reportedly was more than 20 years old, “leaked.”
The watchdog agency for the clerk’s office reportedly is now investigating whether the employee who is believed to have released the records did so properly.
The man has been critical of Gardiner’s decision to delay approval of a proposed 10-story senior living complex at Six Corners and helped lead a protest against Gardiner’s decision. The project was eventually approved and is now under construction.
In addition, a resident has reported that inspectors were sent to her Jefferson Park home because she believes she had made a critical remark about Gardiner on Facebook. The inspectors reportedly accused her of illegally raising chickens and selling eggs but left without issuing any citations after no violations were found.
More than 20 aldermen have signed a letter condemning Gardiner’s actions, and at least 13 democratic committeepersons have filed a complaint with the Rules Committee of the Cook County Democratic Party, seeking possible sanctions. Gardiner serves as the 45th Ward democratic committeeperson.
State representative Lindsey LaPointe (D-19), whose district includes much of the 45th Ward, said on Facebook that “the recently uncovered words and actions of Alderman Gardiner directed at City Council colleagues, constituents and female staff are hurtful and disappointing to all of us who expect and deserve so much more from our elected officials and our workplaces.”
United Northwest Side, a political organization that describes itself as believing in “politics that work for working people,” is calling for a protest demanding Gardiner’s resignation at 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 13, in front of Gardiner’s office, 5425 W. Lawrence Ave.
***For more information on this issue, please see the following Sept. 3 article (updated Sept. 7):
Alderman James Gardiner (45th) has issued an apology for referring to several people as a “b****” in private text messaging exchanges with a former staffer in 2019.
“I am sorry for my comments; they do not reflect my values. I have reached out to my colleagues and others to express my sincere regrets. I respect all people and apologize to those I may have offended,” Gardiner said in a statement he released on Sept. 3.
The staff member, who also worked on Gardiner’s 2019 campaign but apparently has been at odds with him since she quit her staff post in late 2019, is believed to have released portions of text messages that she had with Gardiner. The messages were posted on the People’s Fabric, an anonymous blog that has been critical of Gardiner.
Gardiner has made phone calls to those mentioned in the texts, but City Council Finance Committee chief of staff Anne Emerson said that she wants an in-person meeting with Gardiner, not just an apology over the phone.
Emerson said that elected officials such as Gardiner represent their communities and that such language is completely out of line. She added that she has received a lot of calls of support and that people are “horrified” that an official would use a demeaning word like “b****” to describe accomplished women.
Emerson said that she received a text message from Gardiner asking her to call him and that she responded in a text asking if he would be available to meet on Sept. 14, which is the next council meeting, but that she has not heard back.
Gardiner said Tuesday that he plans to meet with Emerson at her discretion.
Gardiner said that he did talk to Alderman Scott Waguespack (32nd), who chairs the committee, and apologized for the disparaging remark he made about Emerson.
Waguespack told the Sun-Times that Gardiner seemed sincere in his apology. “I was kind of surprised. I was actually not expecting much, but he was very cordial and contrite, but I really think it’s up to Anne to accept the apology,” he told the Sun-Times.
In addition, Gardiner apologized to Alderman Tom Tunney (44th), who was described as a “b****” in one of the texts.
“I accepted it, and we’re moving on. How about talking about violence now? Name-calling is not a good thing, but I am moving on,” Tunney told the Sun-Times (Sept. 3 article).
Communications and political consultant Joanna Klonsky, who also was referred to as a b**** in one of the texts, issued the following statement:
“Alderman Gardiner has a disturbing habit of degrading women. In my experience, this is often a red flag for other abusive behavior. An apology won’t cut it at this point. The alderman needs to seek counseling to understand the impacts of his misogynistic behavior, clean up his act and make amends.”
Klonsky’s clients have included Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Chicago City Council Women’s Caucus, Waguespack and former alderman John Arena, who Gardiner defeated in 2019.
Gardiner said that he called Klonsky this week and left her a message.