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Cappleman makes history in runoff election
News update 9:30 p.m. April 5, 2011
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2011-04-06

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James Cappleman


James Cappleman became only the second out gay individual on Chicago's City Council when he defeated Molly Phelan 55 percent to 45 percent in a runoff election April 5. ( Tom Tunney, alderman of the 44th Ward, is the first. ) However, Cappleman is the first gay individual to be elected initially, as Tunney as appointed a month before being elected in 2003.

Fourteen wards held runoff elections, which featured opponents who did not get at least 50 percent plus one of the vote in the general election in February. Turnout was typically low—this time, slightly less than 23 percent of people registered in those wards actually voted.

The 46th Ward race became increasingly negative over the weeks, with some community members accusing Phelan of employing flyers with anti-gay undertones against her opponent. At least one of the flyers criticized Cappleman's plan to address crime in the ward as consisting of "anger management classes and flowers," in addition to "planters, public art, decorative pedestrian lightposts and streetscaping." Phelan had repeated similar statements in several debates and in interviews with other media outlets in recent weeks.

Another contentious race was in the 25th Ward, which covers neighborhoods such as Chinatown, Tri-Taylor, Little Italy and Pilsen. Ald. Daniel Solis held on to the seat he has held since 1996 as he edged Temoc Morfin.

At a March 30 LGBT event hosted by Solis at the restaurant Ciao Amore, pro-Morfin backers sat at two tables while at least one person distributed pro-Morfin flyers. As Solis and guest 44th Ward Ald. Tom Tunney spoke, said supporters asked questions, but were eventually drowned out by Solis' supporters. Shouting commenced on both sides, culminating in the first woman repeatedly saying, "Do not touch me!" as people closed in around her. Eventually, the pro-Morfin supporters made their way out of the restaurant.

After the election, Morfin released a statement saying, in part, "I congratulate Ald. Solis tonight. I urge him to take some lessons away from this runoff—that he needs to be more accessible to his constituents; that he needs to protect the health of the residents of the 25th Ward ahead of his own campaign coffers; [ and ] that he needs to fight for the needs of the most vulnerable members of our community above all else."

In the 50th Ward, challenger Debra Silverstein—the wife of Democratic state Sen. Ira Silverstein who had the support of Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel—handily defeated incumbent Ald. Bernie Stone. First elected to city council in 1973, Stone was the longest-serving alderman in the city after Ed Burke, and was Chicago's vice mayor.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Emanuel spent $250,000 on seven aldermanic candidates, including Silverstein, the only non-incumbent he endorsed. "He wants a puppet in the City Council and I'm not going to be a puppet," Stone said of Emanuel. Stone, 83, said that, had he prevailed in the runoff, this term would have been his last.

Stone told WGN-TV that he lost because of the unions and ward committeemen, among other things, and added that he once had the support of the machine but then had to face it. He added that he felt sorry for the people in his ward now that Silverstein will be alderman.

In the 20th Ward, Ald. Willie Cochran squared off against Grammy-winning rap artist Che "Rhymefest" Smith, with Cochran narrowly winning. The 15th Ward saw Toni Foulkes handily defeating Raymond A. Lopez.

In the 6th Ward, Ald. Freddrenna Lyle was in the fight of her life—and lost. She ended up trailing Roderick Sawyer—son of former Chicago Mayor Eugene Sawyer—49 percent to 51 percent.

Joann Thompson defeated Hal Baskin in the 16th Ward to retain her aldermanic seat. There was some drama in this race as Baskin was arrested for allegedly engaging in a shouting match with an election judge who supposedly bad-mouthed Baskin, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Ald. Latasha Thomas edged David Moore in the 17th Ward. In the 24th Ward, Michael Chandler prevailed against incumbent Ald. Sharon Denise Dixon. In the 36th Ward, Nicholas Sposato defeated John Rice while in the 38th Ward Tom Caravette lost to incumbent Ald. Timothy Cullerton.

In the 41st Ward, it was down to the wire as Mary O'Connor narrowly beat Maurita Gavin. In the 43rd Ward, as Michele Smith and Tim Egan were virtually neck and neck, with Smith eventually winning.

Lastly, in the 45th Ward, it was another tight race, this time between John Garrido and John Arena, with Arena winning 50.12 percent of the vote.

Out in the suburbs, out gay father/husband Steven Bigden-Russell came up short in his bid to be part of the Winthrop Harbor, Ill., school board. With 10 candidates vying for three spots, Bigden-Russell finished sixth, with 9.9 percent of the vote.

In Oak Park, openly gay Village Trustee Ray Johnson won yet another term, along with newcomers Adam Salzman and Robert Tucker. All three are in the organization Citizens for Accountable Leadership, whose platform includes transparency, good government, economic development to expand the tax base, strong schools and public safety.


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