UPTOWN — Vacant retail spaces, scarce jobs and crime can all be traced to the leftovers of one winged pest, claims a local politician trying to fight the prevalence of pigeon poop.
Ald. James Cappleman (46th) is standing his ground when it comes to fixing the pigeon problem in Uptown, despite opposition from some animal advocates. The alderman said the urban birds and their droppings are keeping some areas from cleaning up their acts.
Cappleman emphasized, as he has before, that he campaigned for alderman with a focus on two things — public safety and economic development.
"You can't shake me away from it. And I'm not going to be taken off that focus," he told DNAinfo.com Chicago.
"With regard to pigeons, if you look at the Gerber Building — that's where the Wilson L is — you'll notice that all of the retail along that stretch on the 4600 block of [North] Broadway is vacant. Do you know why it's vacant? The roof leaks. Do you know why the roof leaks?"
The answer, Cappleman said, is pigeon excrement.
And the outcome, he said, is less retail, less tax revenue and fewer jobs. It also means fewer "eyes on the street," he explained, calling the intersection near the L the "epicenter" of area crime.
But Sarah Dolski, 24, of Uptown said, "People who live in the neighborhood feel that there are more important issues for the alderman to be focusing on as opposed to deporting pigeons.
"I mean, we have gang violence, we have unemployment, we have issues that are much more important than pigeons," she said. "And I think we really wish that our alderman would do more to address those issues."
Brandon Bone, an undercover investigator with the animal protection group Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, protested outside Cappleman's office Friday in response to news that the alderman allowed an Indiana farmer to capture pigeons and take them to the Hoosier State.
The farmer reportedly was leading the pigeons to a pigeon shoot. Cappleman has previously said he did not know why the man wanted the animals, and his office had no comment on the protest.
Bone, 27, said that maybe the alderman should keep a cleaner ward if it has such a pigeon problem.
"He's worried about corrosive feces or whatever. The pigeons are here because there is human refuse," he said outside Cappleman's office, which closes early on Friday and was empty during most of the protest.
"The sooner that the alderman cleans up the refuse in the area, he will see that populations will not be thriving. They're here for a reason," Bone said.
Some Uptown residents said one of those reasons is a woman known to many as "the pigeon lady" and a male accomplice, who have been spotted dumping pounds of bird feed and breadcrumbs at numerous locations in Uptown.
The woman shoved Cappleman and threw breadcrumbs at him in May, after he tried to brush the feed off the sidewalk near his office. She is believed to have moved out of the neighborhood, but can still be seen from time to time, locals said.
Wally Rozak, assistant director of Uptown United, an economic development organization, said pigeon droppings have been a problem for at least a year and a half.
Months ago, before the recent Lawrence Red Line renovation, "You would be standing there in pigeon excrement," if you waited for a bus under the station, he said.
The Bridgeview Bank Building that houses the chamber's offices is across from the station and uses spikes on windows to ward off pigeons trying to perch. Pigeon excrement has been blamed for piling up inside the Aragon Ballroom's vertical marquee and short-circuiting lights in the sign.
Cappleman is the co-sponsor of a city ordinance proposed in December that would increase fines and include the possibility of jail time for pigeon feeders.
"This kind of thing sort of falls between the cracks, because you don't want to throw somebody in jail for feeding the birds," Rozak said. "But it becomes a public health problem and a filth problem. And for businesses and for the venues here, you don't want to have to have your patrons walking through this."
When it comes to the possibility that the pigeons captured in Uptown were shot dead, Rozak said: "I don't think it's ideal."
"But you know, we also have Peregrine Falcons up here," he said, "and they cut down on the [pigeon] population, too."