Gardiner, Villegas headed to runoff as incumbents (mostly) cruise in Northwest Side wards

James Gardiner faced several scandals in his first term on the City Council; Jessica Gutierrez is poised for a runoff to replace Ariel Reboyras after falling 300 votes short in 2019.

SHARE Gardiner, Villegas headed to runoff as incumbents (mostly) cruise in Northwest Side wards

Ald. James Gardiner at a candidate forum in January. The 45th Ward alderman, plagued by a series of scandals in his first term, faced five challengers to represent the Northwest Side ward.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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Facing political headwinds from a string of first-term scandals, freshman incumbent Ald. James Gardiner on Tuesday appeared headed for a second round of voting in the April 4 run-off election for the Northwest Side 45th Ward seat.

With 97% of precincts reporting, Gardiner had 49% of the vote in a six-way race, near the 50%-plus total needed to avoid a runoff. Rivals Megan Mathias, an attorney, and businessman James Suh were in a close race for second, and a potential slot in the runoff, with around 15% each.

Gardiner’s campaign staff said the incumbent was celebrating with family and friends and had not planned a public gathering to watch returns. Reached by phone around 8:45 p.m., Gardiner declined comment.

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“We’re not going to talk until we get the results,” he said.

Gardiner, a city firefighter who passed up a promotion to captain to seek a second term, is one of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s most vocal critics, and has touted several long-stalled developments along the ward’s Milwaukee Avenue commercial corridor. 

But his first term also saw Gardiner read an apology from the City Council floor after leaked text messages showed him referring to some peers and constituents in crude, misogynistic terms. Texts that seemed to indicate he intended to withhold city services from ward residents he deemed enemies drew FBI attention, and his ward superintendent was indicted for allegedly selling a machine gun to an undercover ATF agent on city time.

Mathias, who began her campaign two years ago, only to find her house was mapped out of the 45th in last year’s redrawing, said she looked forward to five weeks of trying to consolidate support for the runoff.

“I think that people are looking for a change and someone that’s going to build bridges,” Mathias said. “We’re going to give people a day or two off ... and come out swinging.”

26th Ward

Retiring Ald. Roberto Maldonado’s chosen successor, first-time candidate Jessie Fuentes, had garnered 54% of the vote in a three-way race in the 26th Ward with all precincts reporting. Julian “Jumpin’” Perez, a DJ, had 33%, and Angee Gonzalez Rodriguez 12%. The ward is centered in Humboldt Park, where Fuentes works at the Puerto Rican Cultural Center.

30th Ward

Four years after falling just 300 votes shy of beating incumbent Ald. Ariel Reboyras, Jessica Gutiérrez appeared poised for a runoff to fill the seat after Reboyras announced he would not seek reelection.

The 34-year-old daughter of former U.S. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez collected 39% of the vote, and the mood was jubilant at her victory party at Brudder’s bar in Irving Park. Gutierrez will face Roosevelt University admissions officer Ruth Cruz, who finished second at 28%; community organizer Warren Williams at 21%; and CTA administrator JuanPablo Prieto at 11%.

31st Ward

Four years after beating incumbent Milly Santiago in a runoff election, Felix Cardona Jr. appeared to cruise to a second term. Cardona, who got 54% of the vote against Santiago, had 81% with 87% of precincts reporting. Esteban Burgoa Ontañon had 18%.

36th Ward

Ald. Gilbert Villegas, chair of the City Council’s Latino Caucus and one-time floor leader for Lightfoot, will face a runoff against Lori Torres Whitt. The 36th Ward was redrawn in 2022 in a gerrymandered area stretching along Grand Avenue from the city’s western border to Ashland Avenue, boundaries that Villegas said diluted the power of Latino voters. With 96% precincts reporting, Villegas had tallied 46% of the vote. Torres Whitt tallied 29%.

38th Ward

Ald. Nicholas Sposato, a firefighter running for a fourth term representing the 38th Ward and the many first responders and city employees in Dunning, Portage Park and Jefferson Park, appeared to have outpaced four challengers and to avoid a runoff. Running in one of the most conservative wards in the city, Sposato pulled in 56% of the vote with 96% of precincts tallied. Activist Ed Bannon was in second with 26%.

39th Ward

Samantha “Sam” Nugent won a runoff election in 2019 to secure her first term, taking the open seat of retiring Ald. Margaret Laurino. With 94% precincts reporting, Nugent was almost certain to avoid a runoff after securing 63% of the vote against first-timer Denali Dasgupta.

41st Ward

Firefighter Anthony Napolitano rolled to a third term representing the Far Northwest Side neighborhoods of Norwood Park, Edison Park, Oriole Park and O’Hare Airport, collecting 74% of the vote with all precincts reporting.

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