County Democratic Party reprimands Gardiner, removes him from committees
by BRIAN NADIG
The Cook County Democratic Party has officially reprimanded 45th Ward Committeeperson James Gardiner and stripped him from several committees for what the party describes as his use of "misogynistic, homophobic and obscene language" and verbal harassment of a colleague, a staff member and constituents.
Party chairperson Toni Preckwinkle has removed Gardiner from the four candidate selection and recruitment committees he sits on. Gardiner, who also is the 45th Ward alderman, has been in the media spotlight in recent weeks following the release of text messages he wrote to a former aldermanic aide.
In a statement, the party said that through an inquiry, it has "confirmed" that Gardiner used demeaning language and engaged in harassment. In a text message, Gardiner referred to 44th Ward Alderman and Committeeperson Tom Tunney as a "b****," and in another message a constituent was called a demeaning word and others also are described in derogatory terms.
"There are numerous examples of personal invectives and insults, uncontrolled rants, and verbal abuses – accompanied by boorish, obnoxious, repugnant, rude, and vulgar conduct-over the past 2 years. These actions – the epitome of incivility – are abhorrent and despicable, have no place in public discourse, and bring disrepute upon our party," party officials said in the statement.
The party’s Bylaws and Rules Committee met twice to discuss a written complaint that 16 committeepersons signed against Gardiner. Those signing the complaint included neighboring 38th Ward Committeeperson and state Senator Robert Martwick, 39th Ward Committeeperson and state Senator Ram Villivalam and 35th Ward Committeeperson Anthony Joel Quezada.
In accordance with state election laws the party does not have the authority to remove committeepersons unless they are convicted of a felony, said party executive director Jacob Kaplan.
Alderman Nicholas Sposato (38th), who is the 38th Ward’s former committeeperson, criticized the decision to rebuke Gardiner.
"Shame on the Democratic Party," he said. "If Jim were a lefty loon, this certainly wouldn’t be an issue."
In recent months, Gardiner’s more right-leaning pro-police and anti-vaccine mandate stances have pitted him against the more left-leaning, mainstream members of the Democratic Party.
"Committeeperson Gardiner’s behavior does not have a home in our party, and we must not stand silent in the face of this bigotry. His words and actions do not represent the values and vision of our party," the complaint said.
Gardiner submitted a written response to the committee, claiming that the text messages were written prior to his election as committeeperson in 2020 and that he never acted on any of his rants. He added that most of the social media postings and news reports that the committee reviewed for its inquiry derived from his "political adversaries" that run anonymous anti-Gardiner blogs and other social media pages.
Gardiner also wrote that the text messages do not reflect the welcoming and safe community that his team has tried to create in the 45th Ward.
Sposato said that Gardiner made an "impassioned" apology on the floor of the City Council and personally apologized to Tunney and some of the others who were named in the text messages, although the committeepersons’ complaint described the apologies as "hollow."
"If Tunney is fine with it, then the Democratic Party should be fine with it," Sposato said, adding that the party could have handled the situation differently. "Praise in public. Scold in private."
Sposato said that Gardiner’s text messages were private exchanges between him and a "trusted friend" at the time. He also said "who hasn’t" said things in private that they later regret.
A similar complaint about Gardiner has been submitted to the City Council Rules Committee, calling for a hearing to discuss Gardiner’s conduct and a possible censure. The committee has not scheduled a hearing on the matter, and Sposato said that it would be surprising if the committee were to formally consider the complaint because it could open the door for inquiries into other alderpersons, revealing their "skeletons."
The city Ethics Board has said that "probable cause" exists to suspect that Gardiner violated a city ordinance when he threatened to have the criminal record released of a constituent who had been critical of him and threatened to withhold city services of a constituent who had supported another candidate.
Gardiner could not be reached for comment.