Neighborhood Issues May Fuel Uptown Race

46th Ward Aldermanic Runoff Forum

Ald. James Cappleman was elected in 2011 as a candidate for change. The former social worker, who is one of the Chicago City Council's openly gay members, has been heavily supported by Mayor Rahm Emanuel's PAC in his re-election bid. He's facing an April runoff against lawyer Amy Crawford, who is also openly gay. The two candidates join us. 

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46th Ward

Parts of the Uptown, Lakeview, and Buena Park neighborhoods make up the 46th Ward. The racial demographics of this ward are fairly diverse. It’s an economically varied ward, though generally low-income. The median annual income in parts of Uptown hovers just below $20,000. In Lakeview East, a hub for young professionals, the average salary is three times that. Parts of this ward are gentrifying and seeing an economic revival. However, crime is still a problem. Tackling the spurts of gun violence in the area is a key factor in wooing new businesses and helping families feel safe.

Uptown Entertainment District

The ward’s glitziest attraction is its historic entertainment district, home to music venues, nightclubs, restaurants, and shops. For much of the 20th Century, this was the place to be for live entertainment. While its glory days may have come and gone, the district is undergoing a revival in recent years and plans are in the works to redevelop the area.

Built in 1926, the Aragon Ballroom on West Lawrence Avenue hosted all of the big names of the big band era. Its interior resembles a Spanish village with terra cotta roofs and palm trees lining balconies. Buddy Holly was supposed to play here in 1959, but the show was canceled after the 22-year-old singer’s untimely death in a plane crash. The venue still hosts rock concerts and now operates under the name the Aragon Entertainment Center.

Another popular destination is the Riviera Theatre, a concert venue built in the French Renaissance Revival style in 1916. It became a private nightclub in 1986 and currently showcases national and local talent. A few more steps down North Broadway is the mammoth, ornate Uptown Theatre. When the movie palace opened in August 1926, it was billed as “an acre of seats in a magic city,” due to the vastness of the theater. It had 4,300 seats, making it the third-largest theater in terms of seating at the time. Then-unknown comedic legend Bob Hope got his start there in 1928. Film later became the theater’s primary entertainment form, and by the 1940s, the stage was only used for special occasions. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, movie crowds dwindled. The theater switched its format in the 1970s by hosting rock concerts. Popular acts such as the Grateful Dead, Bob Marley, Frank Zappa, and many more played here until the venue was shut down for regular events in 1981. The destruction caused by a frozen pipe burst and subsequent vandalism has set back maintenance and upkeep of the historic Chicago landmark. There are plans to restore the historic theater to its former glory.

Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary

On Montrose Beach, at the northern tip of Lincoln Park, is the 6-acre Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary. This preserve has attracted over 300 different species of birds, including different types of hawks, hummingbirds, and woodpeckers. A cluster of over 400-foot-tall trees and shrubs, nicknamed “the Magic Hedge,” serves as the seasonal home for all kinds of migratory birds. The sanctuary has a well-maintained prairie with wildflowers, grasses, and several bird-friendly plants.

Both candidates were sent questionnaires to fill out and send back to us. Read the unedited responses below.

James Cappleman

Age: 62

Place of Birth: Temple, Texas

Current neighborhood: Uptown

Family: My husband Richard Thale and I have been together for 23 years. Richard is the CAPS Beat Facilitator and 19th Police District Court Advocacy Chair. In 2012, a woman Roman Catholic priest officiated our civil union in Chicago, and in 2013, we “upgraded” the civil union to a marriage. My parents, who were both community activists, taught their children to give back to the community, so it’s no accident that all 8 of us kids have been community activists as well.

Occupation: I began my career as a public school school teacher in Houston, Texas. I left teaching to become a Franciscan Friar. After five years as a Franciscan, I left the Order to become a social worker, which has been my career until I was elected Alderman in 2011.

Previous political experience: Up until I was elected as Alderman, I never held elected office. However, I have always been an active member of my community. After moving to Uptown in 1999, I served as the board president of the Uptown Chicago Commission, have been active with CAPS and Positive Loitering and served on numerous other neighborhood committees to bring economic development into the ward.

What is your vision for the 46th Ward?

I believe that the 46th Ward must be welcoming for all residents. Whether it’s individuals experiencing homelessness or highrise condo owners, all voices must be treated with respect and included in the decisionmaking process. For years, the 46th Ward’s needs have been ignored and as a result, infrastructure has crumbled and public safety has been a concern for all of the ward’s residents. When I was elected, I got right to work in addressing these problems. After decades of undelivered promises to renovate the crumbling Wilson L Red Line Station, I worked with other elected leaders to secure over $200 million to get the work done and worked with CTA on a timeline to make sure the work will actually be completed. After years of stagnant economic development, I spent much of my time recruiting new businesses to our neighborhoods, and as a result, at least one new business has opened and stayed open in the ward since I took office. That is unprecedented in the 46th Ward. I have put a huge focus on involving the entire community when it comes to addressing all decisions, but particularly public safety. Where the Ward is now and where it was four years ago is like night and day. Overall, crime has dropped by over 25% wardwide and in a former crime hotspot, we’ve seen a reduction in crime by as much as 80%. Addressing these three issues together has been key to improving our neighborhoods and I will continue these efforts over the next four years to keep the 46th Ward moving forward. I will continue to work with elected officials at the state and federal level to make sure crumbling infrastructure in the new areas of the 46th Ward are renovated. My plans for new sections of the ward will make public transit easier and build on the improvements I have already made to Uptown’s Entertainment District. All families will want to call the 46th Ward home because of the shopping, transportation, entertainment and educational opportunities that exist in a community where they feel safe.

What is the most pressing issue in your ward?

Public safety and economic development go hand in hand, and working on these issues together is what has, and will, move the ward forward. With more businesses in the area, we now have more foot traffic and more eyes on the street. This has been an important piece that has helped to reduce crime. We, as a whole community, have taken great strides in making the 46th Ward a safer place to live, work and socialize. I have implemented strategic interventions in crime hot spots, working with residents, business owners and all levels of law enforcement where we have seen crime drop by up to 80%. Across the ward, all types of crime are down by 25% and violent crimes are down by over 35%. While this is a great accomplishment, it doesn’t mean we don’t still have work to do. I will continue to implement these strategies until residents feel safe walking the streets where they live.

What is your plan for fixing Chicagos financial situation?

I have and will continue to advocate for the creation of COFA (Committee on Financial Analysis) that will provide financial information to Aldermen, much like the CBO provides nonpartisan budget information to members of Congress. Solving our financial woes will be no easy task, but it can be done. First and foremost, we must create new revenue. This means looking at who’s paying taxes and ensuring that everyone is paying their fair share. Revenue creating gimmicks, such as the Red Light and Speed Cameras, are not acceptable ways to get this revenue, but instead, we must make sure we are investing in infrastructure (in every sense of the word) that will sustain longterm revenue needs through numerous sources. Furthermore, the city must restructure the way it does business. Employees should receive fair compensation and benefits that are sustainable for the city’s longterm budgetary planning. We are in this mess because of decades of failure from past administrations that made a lot of promises to employees but made no effort to ensure those promises could be kept.

How do you think the city has handled the severe weather this winter?

While I cannot speak for the entire city, I can speak for the 46th Ward. In my ward, the Streets and Sanitation Superintendent handled the winter weather impeccably, especially given the difficulty of plowing streets that had layers of ice. He had crews dispatched immediately after heavy snow falls to ensure safe streets for commuters and pedestrians. Some of our streets are so narrow that we brought in special machinery to remove the snow. All streets within the ward were plowed at least once within one work day.

Do you support Mayor Emanuel or County Commissioner Garcia in the mayoral race?

I support Mayor Rahm Emanuel in his reelection for Mayor.

What is your favorite restaurant in Chicago?

My favorite restaurant is Inspiration Kitchens, Uptown.

Amy Crawford

Age:  38

Place of Birth:  Columbus, Ohio

Current neighborhood:  Uptown

Family:  Partner, Anita, and son, Lincoln

Occupation:  Attorney

Previous political experience:  I took eight months away from my practice to work on the 2008 Obama campaign.  I've also volunteered for many other Democratic candidates.  I am a graduate of Illinois Women's Institute for Leadership, a year-long program that trains a select group of Democratic women to run for office.

What is your vision for the 46th Ward?

My vision for the ward is a vibrant, diverse community where individuals, families, and businesses can thrive without the threat of violent crime.  I see a community ripe for the kind of small business development we've seen in neighboring Andersonville, Ravenswood, and southern Lakeview, but which we've made little progress on here.  I see a cultural and entertainment district in Uptown that doesn't just attract people who purchased tickets to the Aragon or Riviera six months ago, but people who walk out their door on Friday night with no plans, but who want to come to Uptown because it's a safe community where exciting things are happening.  I want to be a stronger advocate for great neighborhood schools, so that they are part of what makes families want to move here and stay here.

What is the most pressing issue in your ward? 

Violent crime.  We've seen more murders in the last four years than in the prior four.  Murders have more than quintupled since 2013, and shootings are up more than 40% across our police district.  Meanwhile, our police district has lost more than 100 police officers since 2012 -- the biggest cut by far of any police district citywide (by comparison, the 20th district, where I live, has not lost a single officer).  We need an alderman who will call for more police, help the police engage more effectively with the community, and champion programs that have been proven effective in stemming gang violence.

What is your plan for fixing Chicago’s financial situation?

Like most voters, I'm tired of the policies of kicking the can down the road to push our day of reckoning off a little further, thereby rendering our fiscal position even more precarious.  

I think that our city, state, and, for that matter, federal addiction to deficit spending is deeply unhealthy, unsustainable, and immoral.  Borrowing to pay for today’s operating expenses places a huge burden on future generations for services from which they will never receive any benefit.  We are also making our operating expenses more costly by paying debt service on top of routine expenditures.  Our debt obligations also impair our ongoing ability to fulfill pension promises and make important investments in our schools and other programs.  Deficit spending should be the exception rather than the rule; whatever economic justifications exist for it at a federal level are not present at the state and local levels.

Going forward, the city must both raise revenue and cut spending.  City budgets should be lean and cut waste.  The city can cut expenses such as legal judgments and settlements by curtailing its misdeeds, including for police brutality.  Ward menu funds should also be on the table to cut, along with frivolous expenditures and dubious technology.  We also need better planning by CPS and other departments than that which occurred in the past, so that we are correcting our course gradually over time, as opposed to making major investments in schools that were suddenly shuttered shortly thereafter.

However, I don’t believe we can get out of this mess exclusively through spending cuts.  Residents and businesses need to be told the truth about the dire straits of city finances, and our political will — particularly the political will of the elite — must be marshaled to endure a few years of shared sacrifice in the name of restoring our fiscal health.  I think all revenue-raising ideas should be on the table, including the “LaSalle Street Tax”, closing corporate tax loopholes, and TIF reform.  We should try to share the burden of any revenue increases by implementing multiple proposals and trying to protect low-income people, who are least able to absorb higher taxes without severe consequences.

How do you think the city has handled the severe weather this winter?

Fortunately, this winter was nothing like the one we had last year.  However, in our ward, it took too long for side streets and alleys to be plowed.  Many residents also complained to me about owners who failed to shovel their sidewalks.  We need a ward superintendent who will ensure that we get the services we need and enforce our laws so that residents are able to get where they need to go during winter.

Do you support Mayor Emanuel or County Commissioner Garcia in the mayoral race?

My race isn't about the mayor's race.  My race is about electing a 46th Ward alderman who puts first things first -- violent crime and economic development in our neighborhoods -- and can bring people together to get more done.  I'm also running to be an independent voice in City Council rather than a rubber stamp to any mayor's agenda.  I know I'll work well with whoever is elected mayor.

What is your favorite restaurant in Chicago?

Our favorite restaurant is Inspiration Kitchens, right here in the 46th Ward.  Inspiration is our Friday night date place because my partner won't venture further than two blocks when she's tired after the long work week!  We like the affordable fixed-price meals and the great service from the friendly staff. 

Click on the map below for vote percentages in all 50 wards.

Click the dots in the image below to learn the percentage of votes each candidate received in the Feb. 24 election.

-- Graphics by Kristen Thometz and Linda Qiu; Yasmin Rammohan contributed

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