JEFFERSON PARK — The first negative advertisements in the hotly contested 45th Ward aldermanic race tags two challengers trying to unseat Ald. John Arena with the most-dreaded label in Chicago politics:
Against a backdrop of vintage Bush-Cheney bumper stickers and emblazoned with the GOP's elephant emblem, the first of two glossy fliers paid for by the Service Employees International Union Political Action Committee proclaims "John Garrido and Michelle Baert have made it clear what side they are on."
On the flip side — accompanied by pictures of the candidates — the mailer blasts Garrido, a Chicago police lieutenant, for running for Cook County board president as a Republican in 2010, for attending a "Tea Party" event during the 2011 aldermanic election and for supporting a plan endorsed by conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh to hurt President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign.
The second ad features the same information but creates a nonexistent "Garrido-Baert" lawn sign and plants in front of Chicago bungalows in a field of Bush-Cheney, McCain-Palin and Romney-Ryan signs from the last three Republican presidential tickets.
Being alderman is about delivering city services to residents, not politics, Garrido said.
"I will treat this job just I as I do my job as a police officer," Garrido said. "When someone calls for help, I help. I don't ask what their political affiliation is or who they know."
Baert "voted in Republican primaries even when Obama was on the ballot," according to the flier.
Baert has made no secret of her Republican voting record, mentioning it at a recent debate and discussing it in an introductory letter sent to residents of the 45th Ward in Jefferson Park, Portage Park, Forest Glen, Gladstone Park and Irving Park.
"I'll leave politics to the politicians and I'll work with residents who just want to get things done," said Baert, who publishes a family-friendly website as the 45th Ward Mom.
Arena denounced the ad as counterproductive, and said his campaign had nothing to do with it.
"As I have throughout my first term, I will continue to work together with everyone in the ward — Republicans, Democrats, Independents and union members — everyone, to improve our neighborhoods," Arena said in a statement.
SEIU gave Arena's re-election campaign $52,600 on Jan. 16, according to records filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections.
A national organization, SEIU represents more than 100,000 employees in Illinois in a variety of fields, and has led the push for a higher minimum wage.
The flier does not mention the fourth candidate in the race, Michael Diaz, an attorney for the state.
Diaz' campaign declined to comment on the union's advertisements.
The aldermanic races are nonpartisan, but 67 percent of 45th Ward voters cast a ballot for Obama in the 2008 election.
SEIU State Council Executive Director Gerald Morrison said the flier was designed to make sure Garrido and Baert "don't try to deceive voters that they are Democrats."
"This is a perfectly valid issue," Morrison said. "It is important that voters to know this history."
The flier cites a blog that detailed Garrido's appearance at a gathering hosted by the Chicago Tea Party in the South Loop in December 2010 during the last aldermanic race, which Garrido lost to Arena by 30 votes in a runoff.
At that event, Garrido said the city needed to hire 2,000 more officers and called the city's use of tax-increment financing "a slush fund," according to the account by Jim Bowman, a former political reporter for the now-shuttered Chicago Daily News.
During Garrido's 2010 run for county board president, he was criticized for voting for former Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), in the 2008 presidential primary.
"I am a Republican, have always been a Republican, and will always remain a Republican," Garrido said in a statement published by the Illinois Review, a blog focused on conservative politics.
Garrido said he voted for Clinton as part of a strategy endorsed by Limbaugh and others designed to prolong the primary fight between Clinton and Obama in an effort to weaken the eventual Democratic nominee for president.
Garrido said he joined the Chicago Young Republicans in 2002, and donated money to President George W. Bush's first presidential campaign in 2004.
After the 2011 election, Garrido sued Arena, the SEIU and several other unions for claiming that Garrido took money from a firm involved in the much-maligned 2009 parking meter privatization deal and would collect two city pensions if elected.
That suit was dismissed Jan. 7 by a Cook County judge. Garrido has not announced whether he plans to appeal that decision.
In races where no candidate earns 50 percent of the votes cast on Feb. 24, a runoff between the top two candidates will take place April 7.
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