Chicago Ald. Jim Gardiner publicly apologizes for ‘rants,’ one day after sources identify him as subject of an FBI probe: ‘I take full responsibility for my offensive words’

Chicago Ald. Jim Gardiner rose during Tuesday’s City Council meeting and apologized for his “offensive words” but said he “never acted on any of those rants” in which he appeared to call for ward services to be withheld from political opponents.

Whether Gardiner retaliated against constituents for political purposes is among the questions federal authorities are investigating, sources have told the Tribune — though Gardiner made no mention of this during his comments from the council floor.

FBI agents recently spoke to a variety of individuals with knowledge of Gardiner’s conduct, and approached Gardiner himself last week, sources said.

During the extraordinary moment at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Gardiner seemingly referenced leaked texts in which he also used derogatory language to refer to colleagues and women and which have caused a firestorm of controversy since an online group published them last week.

“Today I do not speak to you as a politician. I speak to you as a human being, a human being who has sinned,” Gardiner said during the remarks, which came at the end of a long meeting during which he spent much of the time pacing back and forth at the back of City Council chambers.

After asking Mayor Lori Lightfoot for permission to speak, Gardiner read from a prepared statement: “I would like to address the request for me to make a public statement regarding text messages from 2019 that were released to the media over the past few weeks. I stand before this body to offer my sincerest apologies over the pain and insult that anyone has endured as a result. I take full responsibility for my offensive words in those messages.”

After making his apology, Gardiner left council chambers before the end of the meeting, and ignored questions shouted at him by a Tribune reporter.

Earlier, Gardiner had entered the chambers after the start of the council meeting. A constituent of his ward was addressing the council when Gardiner arrived and, as he walked through the chambers talking to colleagues and searching for his seat in the socially distanced layout, the speaker could be heard over the PA system in the room calling for him to “show some spine and just resign.”

The probe is just the latest controversy facing the first-term alderman, who has been under scrutiny in recent weeks after text messages he apparently sent were made public by an anonymous Northwest Side group, The People’s Fabric, showing he referred to one City Council colleague as “a bitch” and the top aide of another council member as “his bitch,” and also used the term to describe a political communications consultant.

Block Club Chicago also published a story containing allegations that Gardiner sought to withhold services to constituents of his 45th Ward who have been critical of him and similarly used derogatory language to refer to constituents in texts that were later leaked.

A lawyer for Gardiner declined to comment, as did the U.S. attorney’s office and the FBI.

Also at Tuesday’s the council meeting, Northwest Side Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez shared a proposed resolution to colleagues in chambers. She’s asking for them to join her in calling for the council Rules Committee to hold a hearing to consider censuring Gardiner for his reported retaliation against constituents and his “derogatory language” against a colleague and women who work at City Hall.

City Council rule 50 says that any member “acting or appearing in a lewd or disgraceful manner, or who uses opprobrious, obscene or insulting language to or about any member of the Council” can be censured by a majority of aldermen, or expelled from the council by a two-thirds vote.

In response to revelations about Gardiner’s language in the texts, two dozen aldermen were joined by City Clerk Anna Valencia and City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin earlier this month in calling for Gardiner to issue “a sincere, in-person apology” and to “demonstrate through his actions — not just his words — that he understands the effect of his behavior in creating a toxic environment for those around him.”

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Gardiner is facing two federal lawsuits, including one filed by a man who claimed the alderman had him wrongfully arrested in 2019 after he picked up a cellphone that Gardiner’s ward superintendent had inadvertently left at a 7-Eleven in Jefferson Park.

That suit, filed by construction worker Benjamin George, claimed that Gardiner told his ward boss, Charles Sikanich, to report the phone stolen. Police officers were sent to George’s home, where they “profanely” harassed his roommate, according to the suit.

Later, both Gardiner and Sikanich paid a visit to George’s home, where they “used disparaging language” and demanded to know why the roommate let George live there, according to the suit.

When George brought the cellphone to the 16th District police station after he got off work that night, he was arrested and charged with theft of mislaid property, even though he explained to officers what had occurred, according to the suit. George alleged in the suit that one of the arresting officers told him, “I believe you. I wasn’t going to arrest you, but this person has power and I have bosses.”

The charge was dismissed at the first court date, records show.

Gardiner has denied the allegations.

The second suit filed in U.S. District Court in August alleged that Gardiner violated the First Amendment rights of ward residents who were critical of him on social media by deleting their comments from his official Facebook page and blocking them from posting in the future.

The suit, which names Gardiner and the city and seeks class-action status for alleged victims, said Gardiner created the Facebook profile as part of his role as an elected official and is therefore beholden to free speech protections.

Gardiner has denied that the Facebook profile constitutes a public forum and has asked a judge to dismiss the suit.