UPTOWN — After months of campaigning, Ald. James Cappleman (46th) came out on top Tuesday, retaining his seat in the City Council.
This time around, though, Cappleman said he has the added benefit of having forged "connections with all different groups of people" or people he "hadn't interacted with before" that have helped him understand the ward better.
Cappleman has talked with everybody from drug dealers to homeless people to the "extremely wealthy."
Armed with more knowledge about the problems and challenges of the 46th Ward, compared to when he was first elected in 2011, "I believe I'm more equipped to address the needs of this community."
"I'm always learning," he said.
When asked for his biggest priorities moving forward, Cappleman named economic development "throughout the entire ward" and public safety, which he said "differs dramatically on where [residents] happen to live."
"What gets in the news is the gang violence," he said, adding that the strategic task forces he implemented are showing "great success."
But the task forces alone won't solve the problem, the alderman added. He plans to focus more on community involvement, meaning teaming up with youth organizations and providing mentors for youth who are "trapped in the cycle of gang violence."
The Town Hall District police station is "in line for more police," especially after the districts merged, he said. But he added that it's not up to him.
"There is this perception that aldermen can make more police get hired. That's not true," he said. "The way it happens is getting the community and businesses more active in calling 911."
The decision on police staffing is based on crime data and the amount of 911 calls, he said.
He also hopes to re-energize the blocks clubs in an effort to improve public safety.
"We have to break down those barriers of this 'us vs. them' that people sometimes feel," he said.
As far as economic development goes, Cappleman's goal is for residents to shop within five blocks of their home. Right now, data shows that residents leave the ward to shop.
"Some people think alderman can select all the businesses that come to the ward," he said. But if a business wants to open and has proper zoning, "by law we have to step back," he said.
In his victory speech, Cappleman said he "wasn't dreaming big enough" when he first became alderman. He pointed to rehabbing the decaying Uptown Theatre, which will cost as much as $70 million.
"If it remains vacant too much longer, it'll be too little too late," he said. "I know that. I've had conversations with the mayor and he's aware of that."
But he declined to provide details on future plans, saying, "There's a lot of stuff happening that'll be announced in the next few months."
Cappleman said while he "can't force [developers] by law to put in affordable housing," he plans to protect the existing affordable housing in the ward.
During his first term, the alderman said he's been "successful" in connecting developers with the city's Department of Planning to see if they'd be willing to accept Chicago low-income trust fund subsidies. He said the ward still has the most affordable housing in the city.
But, he added, "We had buildings with hundreds of code violations and the bank was selling them," referring to the Lawrence House and the Chateau Hotel, troubled single-room occupancy buildings that shuttered during his first term.
"Alderman are not allowed to stop banks from selling properties," he said.
The main challenge he faces is that the cost of affordable housing is "much higher" than market rate housing because many of the state and federal dollars are drying up, he said.
Overall, Cappleman said his focus "will be and continues to be our shared values and building on that."
"There's so much more that we share than what makes us different."
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