45th Ward Alderman Gardiner gives up chance to become fire lieutenant, opting to continue as alderman and to seek re-election in 2023
by BRIAN NADIG
Alderman James Gardiner (45th) says he will not be among the 40 recently promoted firefighters starting their six-week lieutenant training this week because it would have required him to resign his aldermanic post.
Gardiner said that he enjoyed his 14 years as an active firefighter but that being the ward’s alderman gives him greater opportunities to serve the city and specifically the community that he was raised in. He added that he took a pay cut when he became an alderman, in part due to the overtime he received as a firefighter, and that being a lieutenant would have been “substantially” more pay than his aldermanic salary, which is increasing next year from about $129,000 to $142,000 a year.
“Due to my devotion to serve as a Chicago firefighter, I carefully considered the opportunity for promotion. However, my desire to serve the residents of the 45th Ward outweighs all other career options,” Gardiner posted Monday on his Facebook page.
“With that said, I will be seeking re-election as alderman in February of 2023 in order to build upon the success we have experienced over the last 4 years.”
If Gardiner were to lose his re-election bid, he can return to his previous job as a fire engineer with the Chicago Fire Department. He currently has four challengers: Northwest Chicago Historical Society president Susanna Ernst, lawyer Megan Mathias, Jefferson Park resident Marija Tomic and Party for Socialism and Liberation member Ana Santoyo.
Gardiner has charged that Mayor Lori Lightfoot last summer had the 2009 lieutenant promotions list for firefighters discarded and instead activated the 2019 list because his name was second on the 2009 list (the person above Gardiner reportedly is on medical leave and not eligible).
However, a few weeks ago the city reinstated the 2009 list after two firefighters on the list sued the city.
Gardiner and Mayor Lori Lightfoot are often at odds, as the city has refused to defend Gardiner in several lawsuits, including one in which constituents claim the alderman blocked them on his aldermanic Facebook page. Gardiner has been critical of the mayor’s city budgets, objecting to tax increases, and recently said that “it’s safe to say I won’t be endorsing this current mayor” when asked at a community meeting who he supports.
Gardiner also said that the city’s initial decision to scrap the 2009 list before it was exhausted would have “screwed over” 23 minority firefighters on the list because of an act of political retribution against him, a White alderman.
Gardiner said that the city notified him that he could not be promoted while he is on leave from the fire department.
Gardiner countered that in 1982 then-40th Ward alderman Ivan Rittenberg was made a police captain while serving in the City Council but that the city maintains he cannot be promoted under the terms of the the firefighters contract.
Ruth Major is the attorney representing the firefighters suing the city.
“The city … promoted (about 40) individuals from the 2009 list, and we are hopeful the rest (about 25) will be promoted as well,” Major said in a statement.
“Please note that the lawsuit was filed in the name of two of the firefighters but there are more than 30 other firefighters from the list that are supporting the lawsuit financially and otherwise.
“We will be moving for class certification in the near future. The 2019 list is not active because it had many problems and is still incomplete. We believe that reinstatement of the 2009 list was likely in response to the lawsuit, but whatever the reason it was the right response by the city.”
The city reportedly has lacked a sufficient number of lieutenants in the fire department, instead paying overtime to existing lieutenants.
The Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2 has said that the 2019 eligibility list should be utilized and called the city’s sudden switch back to the 2009 list an “unprecedent act.”
Gardiner is not on the 2019 list because he did not take the more recent lieutenant’s exam because at the time he was on leave from the department.
Gardiner is seeking his second term as alderman. His first term has been marked by several controversies, as he made a public apology last year on the floor of the City Council following the release of text messages in which he made misogynistic and other derogatory remarks about several people, including another alderman and a political consultant, who has worked for Lightfoot and former alderman John Arena, who Gardiner defeated in 2019.
The city ethics board has looked into some of Gardiner’s actions, but Gardiner has said that he never denied city services to a resident as alleged in one of the complaints to the board and that he had asked a staff member to check with him on the service requests because he had already been looking into the matter.
The resident, who had worked on a campaign for one of Gardner’s aldermanic rivals in 2019, said last year that the service requests were filled in a timely manner, before a planned block party.
Another complaint alleges that Gardiner sought retaliation against a resident who held a protest against Gardiner’s stance on a zoning proposal. The ethics board has not issued final rulings on the complaints, asking the inspector general to look into them further.