UPTOWN — Former Uptown Ald. Helen Shiller's longtime chief of staff plans to challenge Shiller's successor, Ald. James Cappleman, in the 2015 election.
Denice Davis' announcement that she'll take on Cappleman in the 46th Ward has some warning she'll simply be a sequel to Shiller, who presided over the ward for 24 years before retiring in 2011.
Davis said that's not the case — although she does claim services in the ward have diminished since Shiller left. She said she's running for office to connect all 46th Ward residents — regardless of race, age or socioeconomic status — to "state-of-the-art city services."
"The services are depleted," said Davis, 59, who has lived in Uptown since she moved to Chicago in 1985.
Davis worked for Shiller from 1989 to 2011 — with a brief hiatus from 1994 to 1996, when she served as community affairs director for Rep. Bobby Rush. Davis started as an aide in Shiller's office and rose to chief of staff in 1999.
Although some people in the neighborhood considered Davis to be Shiller's "right hand" during the latter's long reign, Davis said voting for her in the 2015 election wouldn't simply be a redux of the Shiller administration.
"My name is Denice Davis," she said. "I’m not Helen Shiller. I’m a totally different person. Helen Shiller was my employer. I was her employee. I did my job, and I did it well."
While Cappleman has called for more police in Uptown, Davis said officers were doing "fantastic" work and suggested other ways of fighting crime in the neighborhood.
"Yes, Uptown has its share of crime," Davis said. "But it’s nowhere near the South and West sides of town. When [Chicago Police] deploys those officers, the majority of them are going to go to where the crime is."
She advocated partnering with CeaseFire and communicating with youth directly.
Cappleman's office declined to comment on Davis' candidacy or her criticism. His chief of staff, Tressa Feher, said via email that the alderman's office "does not comment on anything of a political nature."
Clashes about affordable housing and gentrification have been frequent in Uptown over the years, from Shiller's time in office to her successor Cappleman's current term.
Critics of Shiller accused her of being anti-development and holding back progress in Uptown.
Davis said she wants to "embrace the whole breadth of the community" and said she doesn't plan on "rallying around one particular group."
But Sheryl Wilson, a 68-year-old Uptown resident, said Davis "doesn't have the personality," to be an alderman. She said there are "lots of horror stories about her in the area," from people who interacted with her and found her "quite curt and rude," during the Shiller years.
Mark Zipperer, a real estate agent and friend of Cappleman who sits on the 46th Ward Zoning and Development Committee, said that, "There's nothing wrong with the job that James is doing."
An ardent Shiller critic, Zipperer acknowledged there's more work to be done on area crime but gave Cappleman an "A-" grade as an alderman.
He felt it was "in bad taste" for Davis to announce she's running so early and "meddle with the term of an alderman who's working his tail off," and said it's "reflective of the questionable character she's exhibited."
"If anybody thinks we are going back to the Helen Shiller era, they are crazy. She's never going to win. Never." Zipperer said.
Davis said her critics "were people who didn’t like Helen, so they don’t like me," and said, "I’m not likable to everybody. I wish I was, but I’m not.”
Davis said most of her detractors can be found on the popular neighborhood website Uptown Update.
“It surprises me how a few people can rattle the cage and make it seem like it’s the whole breadth of the community when it’s not," she said. “They’ve said some horrible things about me on the blog, but it’s not even worth repeating because it’s so ugly.”
She acknowledged she's "gotten angry about certain things" some "vicious" constituents did when she was chief of staff, including speaking to her in threatening tones and screaming at her in the ward office. She said she even "caught one guy letting his dog" relieve himself in front of the ward office.