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Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Tom Schuba

Scandal-plagued Gardiner wins re-election in 45th Ward, newcomer holds slim lead in 30th Ward

Ald. James Gardiner (45th) faces challenger Megan Mathias as Ruth Cruz and Jessica Gutiérrez square off to determine who will replace retiring Ald. Ariel Reboyras in the municipal runoff election on Tuesday, April 4, 2023. (Sun-Times file photos)

Embattled Ald. James Gardiner cruised to victory in Tuesday’s election in the 45th Ward, while a political newcomer was beating the daughter of former Congressman Luis Gutiérrez by a slim margin in another Northwest Side race in the 30th Ward.

Gardiner garnered more than 55% of the vote, leading attorney Megan Mathias with all precincts reporting, according to unofficial results. In the other race, Ruth Cruz received over 51% of votes against Jessica Gutiérrez, also with all precincts reporting.

While the races were both still considered too close to call because of mail-in ballots that hadn’t been tallied, Mathias’ campaign conceded as she held a party at a western-themed bar in Edgebrook.

“The beautiful part of this campaign was that it started from a love of the community and grew with the voice of the community,” Mathias said in a statement. “Other people in this race made me a better candidate, and I hope that Alderman Gardiner appreciates that thousands of people expressed a desire for transparency, integrity, and a voice.

As of Monday night, 1,637 and 1,992 votes by mail still needed to be counted in the 30th and 45th wards, according to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners. Despite holding the upper hand in the 30th Ward, Cruz said she was “not calling it yet.”

Crime and economic development emerged as key issues in both races on the Northwest Side, where Ald. Ariel Reboyras’ retirement left the 30th Ward field wide open and Gardiner’s scandal-plagued first term hung over his re-election bid.

(Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file)

A former Chicago firefighter, Gardiner has touted his ward as a leader in economic development and has remained a vocal critic of outgoing Mayor Lori Lightfoot — a popular stance for a ward that’s considered one of the city’s most conservative and covers all or part of the Old Irving Park, Portage Park, Jefferson Park, Gladstone Park, Wildwood and Norwood Park neighborhoods.

But Gardiner has also been embroiled in a series of controversies and probes.

Perhaps most notably, leaked text messages showed Gardiner used profane, offensive and misogynistic language and threatened to withhold ward services from residents he deemed enemies. Gardiner issued a rare apology on the City Council floor in September 2021, a day after it was revealed he’d come under FBI scrutiny.

“I take full responsibility for my offensive words in those messages,” Gardiner said at the time.

His office didn’t respond to requests seeking information about his election night plans.

Mathias, a small business owner and chair of the local school council at Belding Elementary, previously told the Sun-Times ward residents faulted Gardiner for being inaccessible and hesitated to support her campaign because they “feared retaliation.”

‘The community wants to see something new’

In the 30th Ward — which covers parts of Belmont Cragin, Irving Park, Portage Park and Avondale — both candidates said public safety was a top issue and called for more city funding for economic stability and development.

They also agreed the ward is ready for new leadership after 20 years under Reboyras.

Jessica Gutiérrez, the former policy director of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, narrowly lost to the longtime alderman four years ago. On Tuesday, campaign manager Maggie O’Keefe said Gutiérrez wants “to allow every vote to be counted” with so many mail-in ballots still outstanding.

Cruz, an assistant director of admissions at Roosevelt University, previously said her community “wants to see something new” and that residents were “tired of the political machine and old dynasties.” Yet despite her lead Tuesday night, she wasn’t quite ready to claim victory.

“I feel good where we’re at,” she said Tuesday. “I have been involved in the community for a very long time, and the community knows I’m transparent and honest. That’s why the community decided to believe in me tonight.”

30th Ward aldermanic candidate Ruth Cruz at her campaign office at 3605 W. Belmont Ave. on the Northwest Side, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023. (Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times)
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