Above all else, our next alderman should be 100% committed to the well being of this neighborhood. Good ideas are helpful, and government experience is also a plus, but a candidate absolutely must have a personal connection to the ward and to its residents to be a successful alderman. Of all the candidates vying for Shiller’s open seat, none have displayed the consistent, personal dedication to the well being of this community as James Cappleman has.
I met James last summer during a positive loitering event. I didn’t know it at the time, but James participated in 45 positive loitering events in 2009 and 2010. During the two hours we stood on Lawrence and Sheridan we chatted about the ward – I was new to the area and wasn’t up to speed on the issues. James was. In fact, his knowledge of the ward’s problems seemed inexhaustible, and as I’ve gotten to know James over the last year, I’ve come to realize that his knowledge is the product of years of personal involvement with Uptown issues.
In fact, James has been an agent of change here for over a decade. After years of frustration with Helen Shiller’s office, James ran against her in 2007 and lost with 47% of the vote. That James was willing to step up and challenge a strong incumbent alderman with more financial resources and Daley support shows both dedication to the ward, as well as an uncommon degree of political courage. Both these traits will serve James well in a post-Daley Chicago. It’s high time this ward had an independent alderman willing to take political risks in order to improve the community.
James takes a hands-on approach to problems in the neighborhood, an attitude that will serve him well as alderman. Aside from the aforementioned positive loitering, James has adopted four garden plots in the ward, helped clear weeds from Graceland Cemetery, helped monitor trick or treating on Halloween, worked with liquor stores to reduce public drinking, organized clean and green events to pick up trash, and mediated disputes between residents and property managers. Equally comfortable in work gloves or a business suit, James has volunteered his own time, for free, for the betterment of this ward. It’s important that our next alderman understand that dirty fingernails are part of the job –something I think Shiller lost sight of.
Most importantly, James genuinely cares about people. Two weeks ago James and I were knocking on doors in an apartment building at the corner of Wilson and Sheridan. At one of the apartments, an elderly woman invited us into her home. The place was a mess, with boxes everywhere half full of clothes and other household wares. The woman’s grandson, who looked in his early 20s, was asleep on a futon. The woman proceeded to tell us that she was being evicted because the rent had gone up and her welfare and pension income didn’t cover the increase. She had been unable to find a place for her and her son to live, and she was distraught because in two days she would be homeless.
James immediately began asking the woman questions, making suggestions about organizations that might help, and taking down information about the woman’s situation. We spent about a half an hour in that apartment. Later, James made some calls to see if he could find her a place to stay, but was unsuccessful. He was clearly frustrated by the situation. I was too, but I also wondered how many candidates in this race would stop campaigning and take the time to help this stranger even though they knew the chances of success were slim?
We have the good fortune of being able to choose the best of good options next Tuesday. I’ve made my choice, and I hope that this column has helped you make yours.
Disclosure: I have not received any compensation, pecuniary or otherwise, for the authorship and publication of this column. I have been a regular volunteer for James Cappleman’s campaign, as well as a financial contributor.