Chicago Ethics Board Asks Watchdog to Probe Ald. Gardiner For Harassing Opponent’s Volunteers


Ald.  Jim Gardiner (45th Ward) on the Chicago City Council floor.  (WTTW News)Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th Ward) on the Chicago City Council floor. (WTTW News)

Chicago Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th Ward) is once again under investigation by the city watchdog, this time facing charges he harassed a group of people collecting signatures for a petition for one of his opponents in November.

During the Nov. 26 altercation, which was partly captured on a nearby doorbell camera, the alderman was seen yelling at and walking towards a volunteer for candidate Marija Tomic, saying they should “run a clean campaign” and “know what you’re talking about,” according to the video.

The Chicago Board of Ethics voted unanimously Dec. 12 to ask Inspector General Deborah Witzburg to investigate the incident, which was first reported by The People’s Fabrican anonymously maintained blog that focuses on Far Northwest Side politics.

One of the volunteers present during the incident he told the Block Club Chicago that he filed a police report and thought Gardiner was going to hit him. It is unclear whether Gardiner was questioned by police.

The Board of Ethics complaint alleged that Gardiner’s conduct violated several provisions of the city government’s ethics ordinance, as well as the city’s code of ethics of conduct, which requires city officials to “treat members of the public with respect “.

At the same meeting, the board also voted unanimously to ask the inspector general to investigate another allegation involving Gardiner. This alleged campaign material complaint in support of Gardiner’s re-election bid was posted in a city facility, in violation of the city government’s ethics ordinance.

The Chicago Ethics Ordinance prohibits the use of public resources for unofficial purposes.

No action by the Gardiner appointed board, consistent with its rules of procedure.

A spokesperson for Witzburg declined to answer questions about the WTTW News investigation, in line with the inspector general’s rules of procedure.

Gardiner did not respond to a request for comment from WTTW News. She faces five challengers in her bid for a second term, including Tomic. Other nominees are Megan Mathias, Susanna Ernst, Ana Santoyo and James Suh.

The incident marks the second time the Chicago Board of Ethics has asked the city watchdog to investigate Gardiner’s conduct.

In November 2021, the council asked the inspector general to determine whether Gardiner had twice violated the city’s governing ethics ordinance by using his office to retaliate against his political enemies. Mayor Lori Lightfoot also called for Gardiner to be investigated after those complaints.

WTTW News reported as of September 2021 that federal agents are investigating whether Gardiner accepted bribes and demanded payments before taking official action. He hasn’t been charged.

Gardiner apologized earlier this year for sending profane and misogynistic texts to a former aide on Ald. Tom Tunney (44th Ward) and two women who work at the town hall.

Other texts obtained from WTTW News show that Gardiner obtained the criminal records of Suh, a 45th Precinct resident who staged a protest against Gardiner, and told his aide to “leak” those records. That prompted the clerk of the Cook County Circuit Court to ask the office’s watchdog to investigate how Gardiner got those documents.

In April 2022, Charles Sikanich, hired by Gardiner to oversee the 45th Ward, was accused of attempting to sell an illegal machine gun while on duty.

Sikanich’s mother works in the district court clerk’s office and would have easy access to criminal records.

Sikanich and Gardiner are also being subpoenaed in federal court by a man who alleges the alderman wrongfully harassed, intimidated and arrested him after he picked up a cell phone that Sikanich had left at 7-Eleven.

Additionally, six residents of the 45th Ward sued Gardiner in 2021 for blocking them from his official Facebook page or deleting critical comments, in violation of their First Amendment rights.

One of Gardiner’s former aides testified that the commissioner was focused on commenting on his Facebook page, called his critics “rats” and promised to rid the ward of them. according to the Chicago Tribune.

In another action, the Ethics Board voted 5-0 on Monday to admonish an unnamed city official for committing a “minor violation” of the city’s ethics ordinance.

The official told Board of Ethics Executive Director Steve Berlin that the official “inadvertently sent emails soliciting political contributions from his city email account” while using his personal computer. The official reported the problem, attempted to recall the missing emails and resend them from his political account, as originally intended, the council found.

The Board of Ethics also voted 5-0 to ask the inspector general to investigate a complaint that “a social media post on an official city social page by an elected official constituted improper harassment of a citizen and contained improper electoral content”.

The council also voted 5-0 to notify two candidates that they may have violated the city’s ethics ordinance by displaying city intellectual property on their ballot materials. Final decisions on those violations are expected at the next board meeting in February.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]


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Written by Natalia Chi

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