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CHICAGO (CBS) — Ald. James Gardiner (45th) made his first public comments Tuesday about leaked text messages in which he used slurs when talking about another alderman and women who work in city politics – but his critics say his words fell flat.
As CBS 2’s Charlie De Mar reported Tuesday night, political consultant Joanna Klonsky and aldermanic aide Anne Emerson both were the targets of disparaging texts sent by Gardiner in 2019. The messages were sent to a former staffer who leaked them to CBS 2.
Gardiner read a scripted apology during the City Council meeting Tuesday.
“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 toward the end of the meeting. “I ran for office in the 45th Ward, because this is the community that helped raise me. My neighbors have become family, and my commitment to them fuels my desire to help create a thriving, welcoming, clean and safe neighborhood. Unfortunately, those comments do not reflect my values or the efforts of our team that works to make our ward a better place, and for that I’m deeply sorry.”
In some of the texts, which were obtained by the CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov, Gardiner refers to women as “bitch” and used that word to describe a fellow alderman.
In one text, after Gardiner is informed Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) was attending an event, Gardiner replied, “Nice. Is his bitch with him? White girl w blonde dirty hair?” Emerson is an aide to Waguespack.
In another text, Gardiner refers to Ald. Tom Tunney as a “bitch” and a “f—ing snake” after Tunney showed up for a meeting, which Gardiner did not expect. The text ends with Gardiner saying, “F–k him.”
In yet another exchange, Gardiner refers to Klonsky, a local political communications director, as a “dumb bitch.”
Gardiner also met privately with Klonsky and Emerson on Tuesday. They released a joint statement that reads in part: “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.”
While Gardiner had issued a written statement apologizing for those comments, and had apologized directly to Tunney, Tuesday was the first time he’d spoken publicly about the controversy.
“I want to make it clear that I have never acted on those rants. However, they should not have been my expressed, and it certainly was not my intention to demean anyone,” he said. “This has been an embarrassment to many, and offensive to others, and again I want to apologize to those referenced in the texts and to my family.”
“That’s a lie,” said Sara Gronkiewicz-Doran. “We know that’s a lie.”
Gronkiewicz-Doran is a 45th Ward resident and part of United Northwest Side. The neighborhood group organized a rally Monday night calling for Gardiner to resign.
“It was a non-apology and it’s insufficient,” Gronkiewicz-Doran said.
Gardiner’s leaked messages also threaten to withhold city services from a constituent who opposed him, and even show the alderman asking a staffer to run a background check on a woman who had filed an order of protection the alderman.
“Essentially ordering an investigation or a hit on a previous survivor,” said Amanda Pyron.
Pyron is the executive director of The Network, advocating against domestic violence.
“What’s happening is violence against women,” she said. “What’s happening from Alderman Gardiner is misogyny and abuse directed at women that he thinks he has the right to control and insult and demean.”
As the calls grow louder for the alderman to give up his job, multiple investigations are now under way.
“We’re concerned about the words, but we’re concerned about the actions; the retaliation against critics; a use and abuse of his power as an elected official,” Gronkiewicz-Doran said.
In his apology Tuesday, Gardiner did not directly address a number of other recent controversies, including reports he used a ward staffer to get private court records he could use in retaliation against political opponents.
Gardiner’s public apology came on the same day Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd) introduced a resolution calling on the City Council Rules Committee to hold a hearing on his text messages.
She has previously taken to Twitter to call on Gardiner to resign.
Gardiner was late arriving to Tuesday’s City Council meeting, arriving shortly after a critic of his was speaking during the meeting’s public comment period, urging Gardiner to resign.
Pete Czosnyka, a frequent critic of Gardiner’s, has said his criticism has made him a target of retaliation.
A woman was caught on video destroying the front yard of his Northwest Side home with a sport-utility vehicle, and screaming loudly as she did so. Czosnyka said the same woman in the same SUV drove by hours earlier yelling at him to leave Gardiner alone.
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Czosnyka claimed “there are more stories that will come out” about Gardiner’s behavior, and urged aldermen to join him and Rodriguez-Sanchez in demanding Gardiner resign.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot already has recommended the city’s inspector general look into Gardiner’s comments about women, his possible retaliation against political opponents, and reports of him denying services to constituents who have criticized him.
On Tuesday, Mayor Lightfooot was asked about Ald. Gardiner’s apology during the City Council meeting. She said it is not up to her to determine whether the apology was sincere or not, but she did say Gardiner reading a prepared statement and not taking any questions from the news media probably was not the best way to handle it.
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According to published reports, federal investigators have launched a probe into Gardiner’s conduct in office, including whether he retaliated against critics and political opponents in his ward.
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