UPTOWN — Will Uptown and Lakeview voters help Ald. James Cappleman hang on to his seat in the 46th ward? Not if scientific research consultant Marianne Lalonde has anything to do with it.
Cappleman has been under a microscope since becoming chair of the Zoning Committee in late January when disgraced Ald. Danny Solis (25th) stepped down when it was revealed he wore a wire for the feds amid a federal investigation that allegedly him ensnared him first.
Although Lalonde only received 18 percent of the vote to Cappleman’s 44 percent, over 30 percent of the vote went to third- and fourth-place finishers Erika Wozniak and Angela Clay. Both have since endorsed Lalonde, who said she feels confident those voters will cast a ballot for her this time around.
But Cappleman has deep ties within the community — he’s lived in the ward for decades and has been in office since 2011. And as he will mention whenever given the chance, Lalonde has only lived in the ward for three and a half years.
“[Lalonde] is playing catch up,” he said. “She’s joined a bunch of organizations to pad her resume, but she just hasn’t really accomplished much.”
But Lalonde’s message to voters is that Cappleman has prioritized the needs of developers over his constituents. She believes the ward needs a leader that prioritizes marginalized voices.
“A lot of people feel that [Cappleman] has ignored or neglected them,” she said.
Center stage among issues in the 46th Ward is development. The ward has undergone massive changes and displacement has become a real fear for many. Look no further than Stewart Elementary School closing and being converted into high priced luxury apartments.
Cappleman said he’s proud of his record during his time in office. He often touts the fact that Uptown has more affordable units than any other ward.
Cappleman believes incentivizing developers is the best way to continue to spur progress while also providing for those in need of housing. If you don’t properly incentivize the developers then you will lose out on affordable housing altogether, he said.
“I want a process that incentivizes more affordable housing throughout the city,” he said.
But Lalonde argues that while the ward may have once been a bastion for affordable housing, lately the scales have started to tip towards developer interests. She criticizes Cappleman for allowing too many developers to avoid building affordable units on-site by paying into the Low-Income Housing Trust Fund.
Cappleman points out that if he required all units to be on-site, many of the city’s poorest residents would lose out on housing. The Low-Income Housing Trust Fund is a way to rectify that, he said.
Lalonde argues that the fund is not a guarantee and often many of those units will go to other wards, furthering the socioeconomic and racial divides across the city.
Since 2001, when Cappleman first took office, Uptown has lost over 2,000 units of Single Residency Occupancy (SRO) housing. That number represents over half of the affordable units lost on the North Side during that time period.
Cappleman said he fought hard to preserve affordable buildings like the Wilson Men’s Home and the Lawrence House. He said that once the banks took over, it became impossible to find nonprofit agencies willing to buy them.
Both Cappleman and Lalonde agree that the Affordable Requirements Ordinance needs to be widened to include income ranges at the lowest end of the spectrum.
A cornerstone of Lalonde’s platform is refusing all donations from developers. She is largely financed through close friends and family, and has just over $87,000 campaign cash on hand.
Cappleman is on much stronger financial ground with over $339,000 of campaign cash at his disposal. He has a “self-imposed” policy of not accepting developer donations six months before they request a zoning change and then 12 months after their request.
But that hasn’t stopped developers and real estate professionals from flooding his campaign with donations, especially since he has taken over as chair of the Zoning Committee.
The Real Deal found that real estate industry professionals have donated over $72,000 to the alderman since he assumed the chair.
In fact, since June 2018, Cappleman has received $138,000 from real estate professionals — accounting for 47 percent of the funds raised in that time period.
Lalonde’s platform on crime centers around a belief that Cappleman hasn’t done enough to combat crime within the ward.
“We haven’t had a substantial change in the number of violent crimes that have happened in the ward during Ald. Cappleman’s time in office,” she said.
But Cappleman points to the Uptown of a decade ago, saying that Lalonde would realize how much progress has been made if she had more years in the ward.
“Eight years ago when I started, there were times when Sheridan Road was closed down because of gang wars,” he said. “There were a lot of murders, a lot of people getting shot and a huge gang conflict.”
Cappleman points to conditions today as markedly improved. Both candidates agree there is still more work to do when it comes to reducing crime within the ward.
Although the high profile mega development doesn’t neighbor the ward, because of Cappleman’s position as zoning chair, the issue has come up during the campaign.
Lalonde has been a stark critic of Cappleman’s handling of the situation, including his failed attempt to delay a vote.
“I never would have scheduled a meeting,” she said. “If he wanted to delay the vote he could have just canceled the meeting. To me, it was an obvious charade.”
Cappleman voted against the development at the zoning meeting but some called the move political theater.
When asked why he scheduled a meeting in the first place, Cappleman made it clear that the committee would have overruled him and voted to have the meeting anyway.
“The last time a meeting was canceled was 9/11, so that was not a route,” he said.
Lalonde wants voters to know she will represent the interests of the entire community. Her campaign has taken great measures to distribute campaign material in many different languages and print size for accessibility. She said people in the ward are ready for a changing of the guard.
“I think people know that they deserve better and they deserve somebody who doesn’t take contributions from developers who seek zoning changes in our ward or acts as a rubber stamp for the mayor,” she said.
Cappleman tells voters to look around at the Uptown neighborhood and see how far things have come. With the Uptown Theatre and entertainment district coming, even greater things are on the horizon, he said. He also wants voters to realize the importance of an experienced advocate at City Hall.
“I have proven that I can move this ward forward in a manner that is supportive of everyone. I’m a 20-year resident who knows the history of the community, and I am someone who has formed alliances with many different ethnic groups and organizations in this community.”
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