b. October 9, 1964
Chicago, 12th Ward Alderman (2003-)
A political novice when he was first elected, George Cardenas' ascension to alderman has less to do with him than it does with bigger players settling old scores–a great example of the fickleness of Chicago politics.
The majority-Mexican 12th Ward was once the epicenter of Mayor Richard M. Daley's strongest patronage army, the Hispanic Democratic Organization (HDO), which was once managed by Daley's one-time patronage chief, Victor Reyes. Since Daley was elected Mayor, Alderman Raymond Frias had been a key Daley supporter and was regularly elected to office with strong HDO and Sanchez support.
In 1996, Frias backed two Republican state legislative candidates - one of whom was in Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan's district–and both of whom opposed the HDO-endorsed candidates. Frias' candidates lost in 1996 and Reyes and HDO never forgot. In 2003, Mayor Daley and HDO pulled their support from Frias in his aldermanic reelection bid and recruited Cardenas instead. Crushed by the weight of HDO's contributions to Cardenas, Frias was unable to win a majority in the election and was forced to a run-off election. But before the run-off could be held, Frias conceded to Cardenas. Cardenas has securely held the 12th Ward ever since. Frias ended up a few months later with a job at the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Since his election in 2003, Cardenas earned a reputation as a quiet and regular vote for Mayors Richard M. Daley and Rahm Emanuel, but after 2015 he stepped into the spotlight as the Chair of the Latino Caucus for a two-year term. Cardenas has been widely discussed as a potential successor to Cong. Luis Gutierrez and has been clearly attempting to build a stronger organization in preparation for that campaign.
Cardenas' growing ambitions began to clash with 12th Ward Democratic Committeeman and State Senator Antonio Munoz, a one-time significant player in HDO, as Cardenas sought to rid himself of Munoz' influence by running for Munoz' Committeeman seat in 2016. Quickly proving to be one of the most brutal neighborhood campaigns in the city, Munoz and Cardenas tossed insults and corruption accusations at each other with a ferocious intensity. Ultimately Munoz defeated Cardenas' challenge 53-47% and the two sides retreated back to their corners – but not without Cardenas proving he's no longer anyone's political puppet. Since the campaign, where he was frequently tied to Mayor Emanuel's move to hike taxes on water bills to cover municipal pensions, Cardenas has moved to align himself with more progressive causes and organizations, including SEIU and the Chicago Teachers Union.
Cardenas served as chair of City Council's Latino Caucus from April 2015 to April 2017. He was replaced by Ald. Gilbert Villegas.
Current Chicago City Council Committees:
- Committee on Aviation
- Committee on Budget and Government Operations
- Committee on Committees, Rules and Ethics
- Committee on Education and Child Development
- Committee on Finance
- Committee on Health and Environmental Protection, Chair
- Committee on Housing and Real Estate
- Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards
- Graduate of Lane Tech High School
- Northeastern Illinois University, B.A. and M.A.
Important Political Events
- 2003, Elected 12th Ward Alderman, defeating Raymond Frias
- 2006, Defeated for for state central committeeman for Illinois' 4th Congressional District by Ricardo Munoz
- 2007, Reelected 12th Ward Alderman with 59% of the vote in a six-person field
- 2015, Elected Chair of Latino Caucus, replacing Rey Colon
- 2016, Defeated for 12th Ward Democratic Committeeman by Antonio Munoz
- 2017, Stepped down as Latino Caucus Chair, replaced by Gilbert Villegas