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A Ward Divided

By Kevin Robinson in News on Feb 8, 2007 2:50PM

2007_2_uptown.jpgThe 46th Ward, much like Uptown, is a bizarre place. Laid out in a strange shape on the northern lake front, the 46th Ward is made up of a lot of different people. One of those groups, however, has a bone to pick with the current alderman, Helen Shiller.

If you've read Chicagoist for any period of time, you've seen our posts on the nonsense that passes for political activism there: strange videos appearing on the internet, and blogging parties of three re-writing Wikipedia to better reflect their own twisted fantasy of what reality is. Last week, however, the reality of election season set in in the 46th Ward, as the two candidates for alderman debated each other. Present were Shiller, and her opponent, James Cappleman.

The debate was, as you might imagine, a full house. The candidates had their questions in advance, and both came well-prepared to answer. While Shiller ran over her time a lot, answering complex questions about development and how the ward works, Cappleman came off as sounding "angry and embittered, frequently making comparisons to other wards," reported people present at the debate. Pointing to some of the surrounding wards, he expressed dissatisfaction with the direction of development in the 46th Ward, claiming that surrounding areas were so livable that everyone could walk to a grocery store, or enjoy vibrant shopping. Safety was another issue he touched on. Obviously he's never visited Roger's Park, half of Eugene Schulter's ward, the east side of Edgewater, or the west part of Lakeview. One major theme, not only in the debate, but among Shiller's detractors, is development in the ward. Cappleman is proposing a master plan to guide development in the ward, and is promising to include all residents in that plan. Shiller responded that she wasn't sure Cappleman understood that the alderman can only negotiate with developers if they need a zoning change. Without that, her hands are tied.

2007_2_theatre.gifWhen asked if he would preserve and expand the number of shelter beds in the area, Cappleman announced that he supported Mayor Daley's Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness, which moves the homeless out of temporary shelters. More than half way through this program, there hasn't been a significant level of permanent housing creation, funding from the city, or a plan to generate the kind of jobs that are critical to lifting that population out the cycle of transience that is the foundation of homelessness. Calling programs such as Jump Up ineffectual (which requires developers that receive TIF funding on their projects to train and hire local people into union jobs, and then help place them elsewhere when the initial job is through), he criticized it for not reaching enough people. If he believes this statement, then why hasn't he proposed expanding this program, and working to make it a model for positive development around the city?

The Wilson Yard project has been an issue that has hounded Shiller for years now. Her opponents have attacked her for not including them in the planning process. Our own observations, as well as those of our source, indicate that Shiller has worked to make the project open and inclusive, inviting opposing groups to the task force meetings. According to our source, Shiller pointed out that Cappleman hasn't attended any of those meetings.

For all her faults - and there are many - we think Helen Shiller has done a pretty good job making Uptown a livable area for a community of people that might not otherwise have access to public transportation, low rent, social services, and the lake front. She hasn't always done a good job communicating with her constituents, but she's a great negotiator, and cares more about getting things done than talking about it, which is to her disadvantage. Taking into account the level of abuse and waste that many in this city use TIFs for, we think it's commendable to try and use some of those funds to channel money back into the neighborhood.

We have some deep issues with what Cappleman and his supporters are proposing for Uptown and the 46th Ward. We can't see him standing up to developers and city department heads (nor are we convinced that he wants to). Cappleman makes much of his credentials as a social worker, yet the human component of managing a population that is coping with both mental illness and poverty is strikingly missing from his proposals. For all his talk of architecture and green spaces, the people that make Uptown what it is are sadly missing from that equation. We fear that the solution imposed on Uptown will be a mass exodus of the most vulnerable, sent away from social services, to be someone else's problem. It seems to us that there is a small group of angry condo owners that are frustrated that Uptown hasn't become the next hot North Side neighborhood. Without a comprehensive plan to do more than simply move the poor out of the ward, we're skeptical of Cappleman and and those who support him.