Jim Gardiner faces challenge from Michael Rabbitt in 45th Ward committeeperson race
by BRIAN NADIG
45th Ward Alderman Jim Gardiner plans to seek re-election next year as the ward’s Democratic committeeperson and will have at least one challenger, Edgebrook resident Michael Rabbitt.
Rabbitt is not new to politics.
In 2022 he narrowly lost to incumbent and Chicago firefighter Michael Kelly in the Democratic primary for the Illinois 15th District House seat. Kelly received about 52 percent of the vote and Rabbitt about 48 percent.
“I was outspent four to one,” Rabbitt said.
Rabbitt will be facing another firefighter in Gardiner, who was first elected as alderman in 2019 and re-elected in 2023. Gardiner became committeeperson in 2020, defeating Ellen Hill by about 300 votes.
Gardiner has described himself as a pro-union Democrat, with working-class values. His voting record in City Council indicates a strong support for police and opposition to tax hikes, while critics claim he is too conservative and say the ward needs more progressive leadership.
Rabbitt has said that co-founded a racial and social justice ministry in his church and that he helped form an affordable housing organization, which led the fight for a controversial mixed-income housing development at 5150 N. Northwest Hwy. in Jefferson Park.
“One of the reasons I’m running is to help educate people on (the candidates) and our democracy,” Rabbitt said, “(Gardiner) doesn’t have any type of public presence (as committeeperson) in our community.”
“I don’t agree with that at all,” Gardiner responded. He said that he recently co-hosted with three other wards a forum for judicial and other candidates at an Edgebrook restaurant.
“We make sure people get out and vote,” Gardiner said, adding that the 17,700 people who voted in the ward’s 2023 aldermanic race in April is the highest turnout ever for the ward.
A committeeperson’s position is unpaid, but it can nevertheless be highly coveted. In Chicago alderpersons often seek to be a committeeperson to “protect their flank,” making sure the position can’t be used by their political enemies.
Committeepersons participate in their party’s slate making in which the chosen candidates receive the party’s endorsement and possible campaign support. They also help select replacements when an elected official resigns or retires before their term is up, as several Northwest Side legislators got their start when they were selected to fill out the remainder of someone else’s term.
In 2021 Gardiner found himself in hot water with his own party, as the Cook County Democratic Party reprimanded him for use of “misogynistic, homophobic and obscene language” in describing others in text messages that he had sent to an aldermanic aide, who later released them after leaving the job. He has been removed from his party committee posts.
At the time Gardiner submitted a written response to the party, claiming that the text messages had been written prior to his election as committeeperson in 2020 and that he never acted on any of his rants. He said that many of the reports which the party reviewed for its inquiry came from political adversaries that run anti-Gardiner blogs.
Rabbitt described Gardiner’s behavior as “repugnant” and said that he would bring ethical leadership to the committeeperson’s role in the ward.
A key factor in a Gardiner-Rabbitt race could be who wins the Edgebrook-Wildwood area. Gardiner performed well in those communities in his aldermanic race earlier this year, as did Rabbitt when he ran for state representative in 2022.
One challenge for Rabbitt could be the ward’s boundaries, as a relatively small portion of the 15th House District is located in the 45th Ward. That means he will be campaigning in many portions of the ward, including Jefferson Park and Portage Park, for the first time.
Rabbitt works as a business transformation leader at the Argonne National Laboratory. He is part of a department that works on operational improvements and change initiatives at the company.
Rabbitt said that as committeeperson he would build an inclusive ward organization, hold quarterly community forums and establish a social media presence to better inform residents about upcoming elections and issues. “As a longtime community leader, I have a track record of bringing people together to improve our communities,” he said on his campaign Web site.
Gardiner lives in the Rosedale/Gladstone Park area. He said that he is proud of the fact that former high school students of his have asked for his help in registering to vote and that as committeeperson he will continue to seek input from ward residents and be as transparent as possible.
Candidates running in the 45th Ward will need 659 valid signatures on their nominating petitions in order to make the ballot for the March 19, 2024, primary election. The candidate with the most votes wins, even if under 50 percent. Unlike aldermanic elections, there is no runoff elections for committeepersons.
Candidates can starting circulating petitions on Tuesday, Sept. 5.
In a related matter, Joe Cook will not be running in the race.
Currently Cook is the 41st Ward Democratic committeeperson, but his home has been remapped into the 45th Ward.
Cook told Nadig Newspapers that he has no plans to run for the 45th Ward position. He is not eligible to run in the 41st Ward due to the remap.
16th District Police Council member Danny Martin and IUOE Local 399 legislative director John Hanley are among those expected to run for Democratic committeeperson in the 41st Ward.