Chicago Ald. Jim Gardiner, 45th Ward, allegedly tried to use taxpayer funds to pay an employee for work they did on the alderman’s 2020 campaign for ward committeeman, sources tell WBEZ.
It’s the latest allegation to unfold as the alderman is facing inquiries by multiple agencies, including the FBI, and possible censure by his city council colleagues for crude texts he wrote about constituents and colleagues, as well as allegedly withholding city services from critics.
Gardiner won the committeeman race in 2020 with the help of an employee who worked in his aldermanic ward office. After the campaign, the employee allegedly asked the alderman to be paid for their campaign work, sources say. But Gardiner allegedly told the employee he’d give them a $10,000 raise to the employee’s city-funded salary, sources say, instead of using money from his campaign committee fund.
The employee then resigned from the ward office, effective immediately, on the day a $10,000 “unscheduled salary change” was supposed to go into effect, and two weeks before it would have showed up on a paycheck, according to emails and a city pay adjustment document obtained by WBEZ.
The employee had ethical concerns about the alderman’s payment plan, according to sources close to the situation at the time, including a different former ward employee who says the employee told them the story within a week after the resignation.
It’s illegal for an elected official to use money from their taxpayer-funded budget to support campaign work.
The former employee who did campaign work and resigned could not be reached.
Gardiner did not respond to emails and a phone call to his ward office Sunday.
Campaign finance records show that while a committee to elect Gardiner to ward committeeman raised $10,800, the committee has made just a single expenditure since forming in January 2020. It’s non-itemized and was for $100.
Another committee, Friends to Elect Jim Gardiner, shows the alderman was spending fundraiser dollars on the campaign, but doesn’t appear to show any payments to this staff member during the committeeman campaign.
Gardiner is facing mounting political pressure and numerous investigative probes after the anonymous Northwest Side blog The People’s Fabric published a slew of damning text messages the alderman sent to a former staff member, and after Block Club Chicago corroborated those texts, speaking with multiple constituents who the alderman is believed to be referencing.
In the texts, according to Block Club, Gardiner refers to female colleagues, constituents, and a gay alderman as “b----[es]” and to a constituent as a “c---,” and said he directed a staff member not to help that constituent without talking to him first.
Other texts reportedly show that Gardiner obtained police records of a constituent who was critical of him with the intention to “leak” them.
The freshman alderman last week apologized for the texts he sent. He then denied he acted on any of the messages, seemingly referring to the messages that insinuated he could retaliate against constituents.
Last week, the Chicago Board of Ethics determined there’s probable cause to believe that Gardiner has violated the city’s ethics law by potentially denying services to constituents and by obtaining police records of one constituent to retaliate against them.
The Chicago Tribune last week reported the FBI is investigating Gardiner’s conduct during his short time in office, including whether he retaliated against constituents for political purposes, and WTTW reported that the probe includes allegations of bribery and pay-to-play schemes.
Mariah Woelfel covers Chicago city government at WBEZ. You can follow her at @MariahWoelfel.