Since the February elections, Ald. James Cappleman has been locked in a heated runoff with openly lesbian attorney Amy Crawford, who's looking to unseat him from his spot representing the 46th Ward on the Chicago City Council. Crawford has maintained that she'll be more responsive to constituents' concerns about development and public safety. She also received the endorsement of activist Denice Davis, who placed third in the Feb. 24 election.
But Cappleman, a social worker, says that the ward is moving in the right direction, especially with a renovation of the Wilson 'L'-stop and plans for an extensive entertainment district on Lawrence Avenue. Windy City Times spoke with Cappleman about public safety, economic development, and homelessness, among other issues, as the April 7 runoff election drew near.
Windy City Times: Were you surprised to have the runoff?
James Cappleman: Keep in mind, the ward boundaries had just been redrawn, so there were a lot of people who I would not have had the chance to speak with. It was also, with two other people in the race, record low turnout, so it's not extremely surprising. I've said before [that] I think it's very healthy for an elected official to be in a race. It gives us more opportunities to connect with people you wouldn't ordinarily connect with. It also gives me greater opportunities to get the message out.
WCT: What is that message?
JAMES CAPPLEMAN: When I came into office in 2011, I made some commitments and I delivered on those. One, we wanted to focus on economic development. Part of that was the Wilson 'L'that was many failed promises of bringing in $25 million to rehab and my conversations with many different officials were able to secure just up over $200 million to get that done. … When I started, the number of empty storefronts was just deplorable. We're averaging one new business coming into the ward per month. We're seeing an unprecedented amount of economic development in the area.
Also [on] public safety: Prior to my election, no one was working well together. What I did was I created some targeted task forces to deal with some very specific issues. We did it with some broad-reaching plans and some specific targeted plans. So, for instance, for the first time, we're having the police work with really well with the Cook County State's Attorney's Office, and the businesses, social [service agencies], schools and the residents, to address the issues that surface. An example was at Sheridan and Lawrence, where there were a lot of empty storefronts and a lot of drug-dealing in that area. We worked with all those different groups, and educated the businesses about calling 911. We educated businesses about clearing out their windows, so they could see in. ... It also sends a message to any drug dealer that when they come out in front of that store, they can be seen.
WCT: What about the calls for additional police from politicians and residents?
JAMES CAPPLEMAN: Every alderman wants more police. I don't know any alderman that doesn't want more police. I think the controversy is how people are saying it is going to occur. A thousand new officers means over $100 million each year that needs to be spent. I know that Amy Crawford has asked that the five aldermen in the 19th district lobby for more police officers. That's not based in reality. Certainly the aldermen on the South and West sidesthey're experiencing an unprecedented amount of crime. They would not want police transferred from their police districts to the North Side. That's not the process.
Let's talk about the process that works. We are [nevertheless] advocating for more police officers and we're on track to getting more in the 19th District. But while we are doing that we are also looking at the overriding long-range plan and short-term solutions to make it happen. We identified hot-spots in the area, which I won't say, but people who live in this area know what those hot spots are, and we identify problem buildings in those hot-spots, and chronic offenders in those buildings.
I go to those areas, especially from April to early-December. I walk them every day. I still walk them [in winter] but in April, it's every evening, and the residents in those hot-spots have my cell-phone number and I've encouraged them to text me when they see criminal activity. I've educated them about calling 911. Then they'll text me and I text the commander and I'll go out there. On many occasions, I talked to some people who are actively involved with the gangs. I did that last week.
WCT: Gov. Rauner's budget has proposed a number of service cuts across the board. Though you don't have direct control over the budgeting process, the alderman has to answer for service cuts quite often. How would you handle those, especially as they impact the most vulnerable?
JAMES CAPPLEMAN: Let's go back to 2011 when I first became alderman. We knew that money would be drying up; we knew the pension crisis was before us. That meant that we had to work more efficiently and more effectively. When I first was elected, we had a shelter that had some individuals who had been there for close to two decades. One man had been there for three years. He had an income of $1,300 a month he'd blow on crack. We had another shelter that was only for women, in a church basement. The women had to leave every morning at 7 a.m. with all their belongings. Then they'd be going back each evening at 7 p.m. One of the first things I did was ask DCFS to create more outcome measures for a lot of the shelters. We've now done that. Two years ago, we adopted the outcome measure that at least 30 percent of shelter residents should be housed within 120 days. That's what's causing us to be more effective.
We're also looking at the way we do homeless outreach. The city of Chicago did a plan back in 2003, but in 2011 it was clear many people were still falling through the cracks. The plan talked of social service agencies working in silos and not communicating with each other, and past consumers of these resources said that when you had 10, 11 or 12 different social services programs, all providing services, it actually hindered them getting into permanent housing. A better approach would be an approach based on case management, where the individual or a family would be interacting with a team, made up of a case manager or nurse practitioner, and out of that relationship, that person has more willingness to address those issues that got them homeless in the first place.
I'm pushing more for outcome measures. It's not enough to give out food, although that's a very important piece. You want to do enough so that you help people transition from living on the streets to transitional housing to permanent housing. So I've pushed more for outcome measures and there's been strong resistance from the city. … The good news is the city is also transitioning to a new model where each person in need will be assigned a case manager, so that's going to force coordination and collaboration.
WCT: Speak about some of your ideas around the entertainment district on Lawrence [Avenue]. In the interview with us, Crawford said it was a priority for you "rhetorically," but not in action. How would you answer that?
JAMES CAPPLEMAN: She would say that because she didn't go to any of our community meetings, where we discussed the streetscapingfor instance, last August. She had not yet announced she was running, so she was not yet going to public meetings. We had a series of public meetings. We discussed putting a plaza in front ot the Riviera. We're putting an outdoor stage with a power source so that we can have music. We're spending $6 million dollars to do streetscaping from Gunnison and Broadway to Wilson. So that project is underway. … We have First Ascent coming in. We have Uptown Arcade going in where the Annoyance Theater was.
We had the Uptown Underground that just opened in February. We now have 42 Grams, one of the best restaurants in the citytwo Michelin stars in its first year of operation. And I'm working with Uptown United to put an indoor farmer's market in the Gerber Building. Right now it's unusable, with over $10 million worth of damage. And we have a development proposal we're very excited about on Wilson and Broadway. So things are moving.
WCT: What is the current situation with Clarendon Park?
JAMES CAPPLEMAN: I am currently working with the Department of Planning, and the developer, and the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We're looking at a proposalthey've changed itand on top of that I worked on the Affordable Requirements Ordinance Task Force to encourage the building of more affordable housing in the city of Chicago. With that change, and some other recent developments, we hope to be hearing something fairly soon about that TIF soon. But I will say this: It will not go forward if it will not pay for the rehab of the Clarendon Park Fieldhouse.
WCT: Are you in favor of the Pride parade being moved?
JAMES CAPPLEMAN: We just had a meeting, with many of the playersAld. Tunney and I and the city and police. My requirement is that, whatever we do, we're going to have to do it a little different from last time. We had too much public drinking and we had too many adolescents who were passed out last time.
There are three aspects to the Pride parade that need their own individual plansthe parade, before and after the parade, and Montrose Beach. And we have not come up with a sufficient plan that addresses all three issues in a way that protects our residents. My first preference is to have it remain where it is, but to work with our police to address where people come in, perhaps do some check-in centers to stop the beer from coming in. It sends the message that we're "watching" you. I think that would be a more proactive way of ensuring that it's safe. It is growing to huge proportions. That speaks well of how far we've come. But I'd rather have it here.
WCT: When you say "check-in," would that be comparable to when you enter Market Days?
JAMES CAPPLEMAN: Like when you're going to Market Days. Something where police or security is able to monitor [for example] that an ice cooler going in there.
WCT: What about Montrose Beach?
JAMES CAPPLEMAN: I told the police that we have to come up with a specific plan just for the Rocks festival. There's a group that's in the talking stages. They have heard from me that we have to have a very good plan in place for security for that area. We cannot have it unsafe. It affects not only the people in the park but the communitythey don't appreciate it as well. I'm all for it, but we're going to make sure that we're going to have a better safety net.
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