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Ald. James Gardiner Denies Permit Parking Exception For Residents Of Northwest Side Building; Owners Think It's Retaliation For Social Media Posts

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A social media post got a woman in trouble with her alderman – and it got our attention.

The post ignited a war between a Northwest Side city leader and owners of a building in his ward. On Tuesday night, CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov dove into what the building's owners are calling a blatant abuse of aldermanic privilege.

Barbara Murphy and her husband built a 16-unit residential building with 11 parking spaces in the Portage Park community in 2018. There were no issues, until a permit parking sign went up about a block away last fall.

They asked Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th) for an exception so the tenants of the building could park on the block. Gardiner said no-can-do, and they believe he is doing it out of spite.

"It's such a simple fix," Murphy said.

Murphy and her husband hoped Gardiner would agree when she approached him about amending the parking permit on the 4400 block of North LaCrosse Avenue in the fall.

She wanted the permit amended "to only allow our address to use those spaces," so that her tenants and visitors could again park on the block instead of two blocks away.

Parking distantly is often their only option, because the building is surrounded by a gas station, another apartment building, and parking-restricted Montrose Avenue.

"Not having access to nearby safe parking is a real concern of ours," said tenant Kim Rehm.

Gardiner defends greenlighting the permit – even after getting a letter from the Chicago Department of Finance stating that the department had "surveyed the location" and concluded that a permit is "not recommended" because 61 percent of street parking spots are usually available.

Kozlov: "So you're saying the Department of Finance's recommendation was incorrect?"

Gardiner: "I'm saying that if they go at off hours, when it's not Monday through Friday, 8 to 4, you'll see a greatly different story than you would be if you're going in the middle of the day when everybody's working."

Gardiner also said Murphy's building is a transit-oriented development, so she shouldn't need more parking.

"They got what they asked for," Gardiner said.

But Murphy believes Gardiner's decision to override the city's recommendation is personal, because she had criticized him on social media – based on something the alderman said to her husband.

"He said, 'Well, tell your wife to be quiet on Facebook, or social media," Murphy said.

"It was mentioning to them, please, stop identifying individuals who are not responsible for getting signatures who are getting bullied on that block," Gardiner said.

It has gotten so ugly that bullying accusations are flying from both sides. Someone even threw a brick through the window of Murphy's apartment building.

Kozlov: "This whole thing is a mess. But let's just go back to this – the idea and the accusation that you are doing this out of spite, and it's an abuse of aldermanic power – your response?"

Gardiner: "The clerk agrees. They wrote a letter, and I can read that for you if you'd like, and they agree with what I'm saying."

The letter was sent to Gardiner one day after Kozlov's first call to him and the city Clerk's office about establishing a permit buffer zone. Gardiner insists city ordinance requires any parking buffer zone, or permit exception, include all residents who live within a two-block radius.

Kozlov: "You can't just open it up to this one address?"

Gardiner: "No, it would be opened up to two blocks east, two blocks west."

But a city spokesperson confirmed Gardiner could add just one address if he wanted, by amending the code. There is a document showing he has done it before – granting a parking permit exception to just a handful of addresses on the 5200 block of North Lovejoy Avenue.

"It's draining," Murphy said.

Meanwhile, Murphy and her husband are losing tenants over parking, making it tough to pay their mortgage.

"If we can't rent the units out, how are we going to pay it?" Murphy said.

Murphy has filed an abuse of power complaint with the Chicago Office of the Inspector General. Gardiner is also named as a defendant in an unrelated federal civil rights lawsuit, which also alleges he abused his power.

Gardiner said he looks forward to the truth in that case eventually coming out.

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