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Cardenas was born in Santiago, a small town in the mountains of central Mexico. Cardenas and his family moved to Chicago in 1978 where he attended Lane Tech High School. After graduation he joined the Navy for four years. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Northeastern Illinois University and went on to work as an auditor and a substitute teacher in public schools. Cardenas later became a business consultant and went back to school to earn his master’s in political science from NEIU.
Cardenas first ran for alderman in 2003. Cardenas was supported by the powerful and controversial Hispanic Democratic Organization, a group with strong ties to Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. In a 3-way race in February, 2003, Cardenas and incumbent Alderman Ray Frias were the top two vote-getters, but neither earned a majority, forcing a run-off election scheduled for April, 2003. Frias withdrew his candidacy prior to the run-off, cancelling the run-off, and leaving Cardenas as the winner.
Cardenas is chairman of the Committee on Health & Environmental Protection, and is a member of eight committees: Committees, Rules & Ethics; Finance, Budget, Education, Housing and Real Estate; License and Consumer Protection.
Landlord of ward office
Cardenas and his relatives bought the three-story building at 2454-60 W. 38th St. in the 12th ward for $715,000 in February 2007. Cardenas moved his ward office to the building shortly thereafter. Cardenas is one of seven owners of the LLC run by his brother that bought the building. Cardenas said he has a minority stake in the firm. In 2008 Cardenas paid $17,120 from his taxpayer-funded expense account to rent the ward office in the building he owns with relatives. The ordinance prohibits the spending of aldermanic expense funds for "the direct monetary benefit of any alderman or any of his or her relatives."
In 2006, Cardenas lost to Ald. Ricardo Muñoz in the race for state central committeeman for Illinois' 4th Congressional District, a Democratic Party post. Cardenas served as a delegate to the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
Cardenas is a part-time alderman. Cardenas owns Cardenas and Associates, a business consulting firm, where he has worked for many fortune 500 companies including Centel Corporation, McDonalds Corporation, Andersen Worldwide, Tenneco Corporation, Ameritech/SBC Corporation.
Ald. Cardenas is married and has two children.
- "Election results". Board of Election Commissioners for the city of Chicago .
- Dardick, Hal; Mihalopoulos, Dan (2009-08-21). "Ald. George Cardenas rents ward office from family". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2009-08-21.
- Newman, Craig (2012-09-02). "Who are the Illinois delegates to the Democratic National Convention?". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2012-09-06.
- Mihalopoulos, Dan (2008-05-02). "What's your alderman's side job?". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2009-12-09.