Embattled Gardiner gives up Fire Department promotion to seek 2nd term on City Council

“My heart is still with the Chicago Fire Department. But my heart and my devotion lies with residents of the 45th Ward, a community that helped raise me,” Ald. Jim Gardiner said, though he objected to being forced to choose.

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Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th) speaks with reporters before the start of his first Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall, Wednesday, May 29, 2019.

Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th), speaking to reporters in 2019, before his first Chicago City Council meeting.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Embattled Northwest Side Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th) on Monday gave up a sure-thing promotion to Chicago Fire Department lieutenant — and a once-a-decade chance to take the captain’s exam — to run for a second term on the Chicago City Council.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot reinstated a 2009 firefighter promotion list after two firefighters on the list sued, accusing the city of violating their rights, and Gardiner accused the mayor of scrapping the old list to get even with him.

In the 17 days since the mayor’s reversal, Gardiner said he has struggled with a life-altering decision: whether to accept the promotion, return to the fire department and give up politics, or seek reelection — where he faces at least three opponents.

On Monday, Gardiner announced he’s made up his mind “after a lot of prayer, a lot of thought and discussion with my wife.”

He’ll seek a second term that is, by no means, a sure thing.

“It’s a very tough decision. I love my sisters and brothers on the Chicago Fire Department. My heart is still with the Chicago Fire Department. But my heart and my devotion lies with residents of the 45th Ward, a community that helped raise me,” Gardiner told the Sun-Times.

“It’s a very unfortunate circumstance that I would not wish any other member would have to endure,” he said.

Gardiner said he does not believe he should have been forced to make the difficult choice that precludes him from taking the upcoming captain’s exam. He said that during the 1980s, former Chicago police officer Ivan Rittenberg was promoted with the acquiescence of Mayor Jane Byrne while also serving as 40th Ward alderperson.

“They are relying on the fact that language in the [firefighters contract] states that, technically, on a leave of absence, you are not eligible for a promotion. I don’t agree,” he said.

“You could be on a leave of absence, but you could also be on detached services, like … people who work at the union. … They’re eligible to take a promotion even though they’re not in the field of firefighting. But it is what it is.”

Last year, Lightfoot lashed out at Gardiner over profane, threatening and misogynistic text messages he sent to several people, including Lightfoot’s political consultant Joanna Klonsky and Anne Emerson, chief of staff of Finance Chairman Scott Waguespack (32nd).

One week later, Gardiner issued a rare public apology on the Council floor for the embarrassment his messages caused. He remains under federal investigation for allegedly retaliating against some Northwest Side constituents for political purposes.

On Monday Gardiner was asked how he will explain his actions to voters.

“First of all, those text messages were misconstrued. They were not reported accurately,” Gardiner said.

“I apologized [because] I could have used better language. Looking back on that, I let my emotions get the best of me at certain times. I’m human, as everybody else is, and I’ve learned from my experiences as alderman. And I will continue to strive to be better — as I have been.”

In addition to the federal investigation, Gardiner still faces two federal lawsuits. One accuses him of harassing, intimidating and falsely arresting a constituent who picked up a cellphone Gardiner’s ward superintendent left at a convenience store. The other lawsuit accuses him of violating the First Amendment rights of 45th Ward residents by deleting their criticisms of him from his official Facebook page.

The city has refused to represent Gardiner in either lawsuit.


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