With its field of 11 candidates, the Feb. 22 vote for alderman of the 46th Ward, home to one of the city's largest contingents of LGBT residents, was long anticipated to be a nail-biter.
Even so, when the race's frontrunners heading to the April 5 runoff voteJames Cappleman (seeking to become the city council's second openly gay member) and Molly Phelanemerged from the preliminary race separated by only five votes, it was clear the battle to succeed outgoing Alderman Helen Shiller would provide plenty of excitement for political junkies right up until its very end.
Weeks before the runoff election, the Windy City Times met with Cappleman, 58, at his campaign office. The office was, expectedly, abuzz with staffers, friends, constituents and even Cappleman's former rivalEmily Stewarton this particular Friday afternoon.
Stewart, one of two other openly gay contenders in the original race, received the third-highest number of votes last month and is one of the six former candidates who have endorsed Cappleman's runoff campaign to date. None have endorsed Phelan.
The support of his former competitors, Cappleman said, is just one of many reasons he is feeling optimistic as his campaign gears up for its final stretch in his second attempt to grab the aldermanic post. He narrowly lost his 2007 race against Shiller.
"We're following [our plan] like science and we've done everything we needed to do to run a very solid campaign," Cappleman said.
The former teacher and social worker said that his strategy has shifted from working to gain further name recognition in a crowded race to drawing a clear distinction between the ideas and qualifications he and Phelan plan to offer the ward. Chief among those concerns, he said, are economic development and public safety, as well as education and the city's budget woes.
"What differentiates me [from Phelan] is I have a long history of collaborating well with othersbe them community members, be them elected officials. You can't be a lone ranger and get success stories," Cappleman said. "Someone can talk about their ideas, but I can talk about my successes that I've already done and I'm building on those successes."
His history of active collaboration in the 46th Ward, Cappleman said, has contributed to several other recent endorsements of which he is very proud, including U.S. Rep, Jan Schakowsky, state Sen. Heather Steans and outgoing 48th Ward Alderman Mary Ann Smith, as well as Carol Ronen and Tom Sharpe, leaders of the 46th and 48th Ward Democratic committees.
Compared with those who have both endorsed, and contributed to, Phelan's campaign, Cappleman said, his support reflects a stronger base of grassroots support92 percent of his contributions have come from within the ward.
Among Phelan's most prominent recent contributions are $1,500 from the powerful 14th Ward Alderman Ed Burke; $13,000 in cash and in-kind contributions from 42nd Alderman Brendan Reilly; and $9,200 from David Herro, an investor with Harris Associates. Herro supports Wal-Mart's expansion within Chicago and has contributed thousands of dollars to socially conservative Republican and Tea Party-aligned groups including Karl Rove's American Crossroads. She has also received backing, to the tune of $25,000, from the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.
"Chicago and Illinois are in desperate need for campaign reform," Cappleman said. "There's a saying you follow the money and you're going to be influenced by those people who give you money."
"But we've never seen [Phelan's contributors in the ward]. We don't know who they are, so the question is what's behind it?" he added.
Although Phelan has raised more funds than Cappleman in recent months, he remains undeterred in his prospects. He pointed to 30-year-old 47th Ward Alderman-elect Ameya Pawar's shoestring, $10,000 campaign to succeed Gene Schulter as indicative of the reform he is hopeful lies ahead for the Windy City.
"Does money help win an election? Absolutely. Is it the sole thing that's going to help someone win? No, no," Cappleman said.
"What we saw in the 47th Ward would not have happened two elections ago," he added. "It would have been impossible, but I think we're going to see more and more people who are going to rise up and say you know what we're not going to have others answer for us. We're going to insist on being heard ourselves."
The struggle to be heard is familiar for the openly gay Cappleman, who, along with many of his campaign staffers, participated in lobbying legislators in Springfield to pass civil union legislation last fall. The night it was apparent their effort would be successful, his long-time partner Richard Thale proposed. They will celebrate their union in a ceremony to be held in either late summer or early fall, after campaign season comes to an end.
Though he is the lone remaining LGBT candidate in the race, Cappleman felt his qualifications and platform would, and should, carry more weight with the ward's queer voters than his sexual orientation.
"I don't think [sexual orientation] ultimately has a strong persuasion for voters to go one way or another, just like one's race or one's gender as Carol Moseley Braun learned [in the mayoral race]," he added. "We're entering a new phase in the way [the community deals] with politics that is, to me, much more sophisticated in looking at the issues and I like that."
Still, Cappleman would clearly appreciate support wherever he can get it in the weeks ahead. He plans to "keep it positive" and continue to keep an open line with the many members of the community he said have been the source of many great ideas to help improve the ward over the course of his campaign.
"I have reason to be very, very happy about [the race], but I am not going to lull anyone into thinking this is going to be easy," Cappleman said. "I'm going to need some help because big business is trying to buy this one."