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Uptown, Edgewater, Rogers Park

Ald. James Cappleman Won’t Seek Re-Election After Three Terms Serving Uptown Area

In an email touting his accomplishments since taking office in 2011, Cappleman said it's with "mixed emotions" he is announcing his retirement.

Ald. James Cappleman (46th) looks on during a City Council meeting on July 21, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

CHICAGO — Ald. James Cappleman (46th) on Tuesday announced he won’t seek reelection next year, ending his three-term run representing the Uptown area.

In an email touting his accomplishments since taking office in 2011, Cappleman said it’s with “mixed emotions” he is announcing his retirement.

“Being the 46th Ward Alderman has been an incredible experience for me and it’s something I will always treasure,” he wrote. “I ran for Alderman to interrupt the trajectory of the ward because our community demanded more. From my work with many of you, we surpassed many people’s dreams for this ward’s improvement.”

Cappleman, 69, a former hospice social worker, said he and husband, Richard, have no plans to leave the neighborhood after his term ends in May.

“You’re not gonna find a finer human being,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said. “I often call him the ‘conscience of City council.’

“… Cappleman is such a fine, fine human being. … We will miss him, of course; but I’m happy for him that he has found peace and is ready to move on.”

Cappleman first ran for office in 2007 against longtime Uptown Ald. Helen Shiller, saying the incumbent had been soft on issues including crime and blight. He lost that race but won the race to succeed Shiller in the 2011 election after the 24-year alderperson decided to retire. 

Since coming to office, Cappleman oversaw a dramatic and controversial development boom in Uptown that brought thousands of new apartments to the neighborhood. The development wave pushed the issue of gentrification to the forefront in Uptown. 

Some of those developments — 811 Uptown at the former Cuneo Hospital site and the apartment complex coming to Weiss Hospital’s parking lot — saw heavy opposition from housing activists and even fellow aldermen. 

Critics say the development that took place under Cappleman’s watch caused the loss of affordable housing in the neighborhood and furthered displacement of poor people and persons of color. 

Cappleman has said the investment in the community has coincided with a significant downturn in local crime and that new apartments help preserve natural affordable apartments in three-flats and mid-rise buildings. 

“From the very beginning, my goal was to help make this ward become a place where any mother with a young child would feel comfortable walking down any street in the ward,” Cappleman said in his letter announcing his retirement. 

“Dilapidated buildings have become restored historic structures and vacant lots have new residential developments that offer a wide range of rents, including affordable housing,” he said.

The Uptown Square District centered at Lawrence Avenue and Broadway received landmark designation during Cappleman’s tenure. The historic Wilson “L” station house was also restored at the behest of Cappleman, with a long-planned food co-op still working towards opening in the building. 

New theaters — including Baton Show Lounge — have come to Uptown’s entertainment in recent years. But one thing that has eluded Cappleman’s time in office is the re-opening of the Uptown Theater. Sitting dormant since the 1980s, a major renovation and planned reopening was announced by city leaders in 2018. But the project has not yet come to fruition, with the developer backing out of the deal last year. 

Cappleman said Uptown being recognized as among the coolest neighborhoods in the world in 2020 shows the “incredible turnaround” the neighborhood has experienced. 

“Residents are now able to access the best of housing, entertainment, dining, and shopping throughout the ward,” he said in his retirement announcement. 

Cappleman won reelection in 2015 and was pushed to a runoff in the 2019 election. He survived the runoff, beating opponent Marianne Lalone by 25 votes. 

Lalonde has previously announced her plan to run in 2023. Angela Clay, another former political opponent of Cappleman’s, also intends to run for the seat. 

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