Embattled Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th) rose on the City Council floor Tuesday to issue a rare public apology for the embarrassment caused by his profane, threatening and misogynistic text messages.
The rules were suspended to pave the way for Gardiner’s mea culpa in front of an audience that included his wife, Samantha Fields. She’s a former city budget director and holdover from the administration of Rahm Emanuel. Fields also served as Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s director of legislative and government affairs.
“I stand before this body to offer my sincerest apologies for the pain and insult that anyone has endured as a result. I take full responsibility for my offensive words in those messages,” Gardiner said.
“Unfortunately those comments do not reflect my values or the efforts of our team who work to make our ward a better place. And for that I am deeply sorry. I want to make it clear that I have never acted on those rants. However, they should not have been expressed. It certainly was not my intention to demean anyone.”
Gardiner acknowledged the text messages have been “an embarrassment to many and offensive to others.” He also apologized to those referenced in the texts and to his family, including “my beautiful wife and my gorgeous daughter.”
Fighting for his political life amid demands for his resignation, Gardiner concluded: “I can be better and will strive to prove that through my actions as I continue to serve this great city. Today, I do not speak to you as a politician. I speak to you as a human being. A human being who has sinned.”
Gardiner’s apology tour also included a meeting with two of the women he denounced in his text messages: Lightfoot political consultant Joanna Klonsky and Anne Emerson, chief of staff to Finance Committee chairman Scott Waguespack (32nd).
“We communicated to the alderman our concerns about his apparent habitual use of misogynistic and degrading language. We asked him to consider the linkages between such language and his other concerning behavior,” Klonsky and Emerson said in a joint statement.
“While it is not our responsibility to educate Ald. Gardiner about the harmful impact of his words and actions, we felt it was important to have a substantive dialogue. We acknowledge the alderman’s apology and hope to see his commitment to change demonstrated through his future actions.”
Lightfoot said the fact that Gardiner chose the floor of the City Council as the forum for his very public apology “put his colleagues in a very awkward position.”
“The better course that still needs to happen is that he needs to stand at a podium like this, say what he has to say and face questions from members of the media. That’s truly the only way to put this matter behind him,” the mayor said.
“That’s the better play. Members of the media, members of his community want to hear what he has to say, but not in a pre-scripted way.”
Neither the U.S. attorney’s office nor the FBI would comment on a Chicago Tribune report that the feds are looking into Gardiner’s texts.
Earlier this month, Gardiner apologized to Waguespack and Zoning Committee Chairman Tom Tunney (44th) for profane and abusive text messages about them or their top aides exposed by The People’s Fabric.
In one exchange, Gardiner refers to Tunney, the Council’s first openly gay alderman, as a “b----” and said “f--- him.”
In another text, Gardiner refers to Emerson as Waguespack’s “b----.”
In yet another text message, he potentially talked about withholding services from a constituent and said, “f--- that c---.” That constituent donated to another aldermanic candidate in 2019, according to The People’s Fabric.
Gardiner has maintained he’s “never withheld, nor have I ever instructed or condoned my staff to withhold city services from any resident.”
State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, who doubles as Democratic committeeperson of the 49th Ward, has asked the Cook County Democratic Organization to censure Gardiner.
Last week, Lightfoot asked departing Inspector General Joe Ferguson to investigate Gardiner’s text messages.
“Rather than death by a thousand cuts and rumor and innuendo in the media ... we can actually get to the bottom of what did happen versus what didn’t happen,” Lightfoot had said then.
The fact that Gardiner’s wife was one of her top aides just a few months ago didn’t stop the mayor from honing in on the allegations that Gardiner threatened to withhold city services from constituents who dared to oppose him or organize protests against him.
“First and foremost, no one should ever be denied access to city services because of their political opinion [or] who they may have supported in an election,” Lightfoot had said.
“I’m the mayor for the entire city. People agree with me. People who don’t agree with me. But we’re never gonna support any effort to deny people access to city services. It’s fundamental.”
Last year, Lightfoot famously warned members of the Council’s Black Caucus who dared to vote against her 2021 city budget, “Don’t ask me for s--- for the next three years” when it comes to choosing projects for her $3.7 billion capital plan.
Lightfoot said then that she had talked to Gardiner more than a week earlier, when his profane and abusive text messages were first exposed by The People’s Fabric, an anonymous blog billing itself as a political watchdog on the Northwest Side.
“I was not unsparing in telling him that I thought that the words that were attributed to him were absolutely unacceptable. Some things just absolutely shouldn’t be said,” the mayor said.
“I know that, at times, people get frustrated. I get frustrated. Sometimes, you put things in writing that you regret. But a consistent pattern of using what I would say is misogynistic language about women [is] totally, utterly unacceptable.”
Contributing: Jon Seidel