Elections/Aldermania! | Our Town | Chicago Reader

Elections/Aldermania! 

This week: selective memory in the 46th Ward, a vacant lot in the 9th, and fear in the 14th

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In nearly every current aldermanic race the incumbents and challengers are accusing each other of being soft on crime. James Cappleman, who's running against Helen Shiller in the 46th Ward, wrote in a recent newsletter that Shiller "regards the persistent street crime, gang-related murders and international drug trafficking as facts of urban life that residents should simply get used to, or, in her words, 'move to Lincoln Park.'"

At least 400 people showed up to hear the two candidates snipe at each other last week during a debate at Disney Magnet School. Cappleman, a social worker at Comer Children's Hospital, blamed Shiller for allowing the neighborhood to remain an ugly cousin of the rest of the north lakefront--plagued by panhandlers, violent criminals, struggling business strips, gritty el stops, and poorly managed low-income housing. Shiller, who's been in office since 1987, countered that the area is racially and economically diverse, with a rich cultural life, steady commercial development, and diminishing crime.

"All you have to do is cross the borders of this ward to see that things could be better," said Cappleman, noting that north Lakeview, just to the south, has far fewer empty storefronts and lower crime. "After 20 years it's time for a change."

"What we've done here in 20 years is amazing," Shiller responded, adding that critics always find something to complain about. "Either I hear that this is a neighborhood that's gentrified and everyone will have to go--or it's never going to be developed."

The moderator asked both candidates how they would work to ease tensions among the ethnic and racial groups in the ward.

"I think actually we have far less tension than people would make it seem like," said Shiller.

"I believe my opponent has emphasized our differences," said Cappleman. "If you disagree with her, she's likely to remind you to move to Lincoln Park."

"I don't think I've ever said that," Shiller said a little later.

At that there were gasps and groans from Cappleman's supporters.

Shiller looked annoyed. "I said that there are some people who want Uptown to be Lincoln Park," she said. "But it's different. It's a diverse area, and it's unique--and we want to keep that uniqueness."

Actually neither candidate got the quote quite right. In August 2004 a Tribune reporter asked Shiller to respond to critics who said she was creating too much housing for low-income residents. She answered, "Maybe they want to live in Lincoln Park. That's not what this is."

Ninth Ward hopeful Earick Rayburn, a former teacher in the Chicago Public Schools, has been circulating pictures of a large vacant lot at 115th and Michigan. "The lot represents one of the biggest broken promises made to constituents of the Ninth Ward in the last eight years," he says. "It's a symbol of Anthony Beale's leadership."

"My opponent wouldn't know of my efforts in the ward--because he just moved back into the ward two years ago," Beale responds. "He hasn't been to any of the meetings on this."

The lot wasn't always vacant. In the late 90s it was occupied by the Roseland Plaza Shopping Center, which had a laundry, restaurant, hardware store, and Christian bookstore. In 1998 the Reverend James Meeks, pastor of the nearby Salem Baptist Church, began talking about getting a supermarket to move to the neighborhood, and he and Salem's attorney approached the shopping center's owner, Samy Hammad, about buying it. According to court records, by 1999 Hammad thought they'd worked out a deal for $3.5 million.

That same year Beale, a Salem member, was elected alderman and pledged to support Meeks's efforts to get a supermarket for the site. That August Mayor Daley met with Meeks at the site's bookstore. Meeks later testified that they didn't talk about the shopping center, but Hammad maintained that they did. By September the sale to Salem had stalled.

Beale says Hammad was the problem: "The owner was very uncooperative about bringing in a quality store." Beale says he then asked the city to invoke eminent domain laws. A month later, claiming the site was needed for development, the city condemned it, offering to pay Hammad $2.5 million. Hammad sued the city for the $3.5 million he said he'd been promised by Salem, and he accused Meeks and Beale of engineering the condemnation so the church wouldn't have to foot the bill. In a brief his lawyer wrote, "Reverend Meeks was able to persuade the Alderman he helped elect, who is a member of his church, and the City to condemn Mr. Hammad's property." Meeks's attorney says there was no such deal.

The case dragged on until 2004, when the city agreed to settle, paying Hammad $3.1 million. The existing businesses were forced to move--Beale says many of them went to other locations in the neighborhood--and last year the shopping center was demolished.

Beale says that a supermarket chain is on the verge of committing to move to the site and that a Wal-Mart is planning to open a store a mile and a half away, at 111th and I-94. "We should have not one, but two grocery stores by 2008," he says.

Rayburn says he's heard that before. "We've been promised and promised," he says. "The grocery store--that's the number one question anytime the alderman comes around. People are looking for some accessibility and follow-through."

Beale says Rayburn is just getting desperate for something to campaign on: "He's looking for an opportunity--and he's running because he's unemployed and he's looking for a job."

Paloma Andrade hasn't given up yet on her 14th Ward campaign: "I'm asking everybody, 'Help! Help! Help!'"

Political observers were surprised that Andrade, a mother of four, dared to run against the imperious 14th Ward alderman Ed Burke, who's generally acknowledged to be the most powerful member of the City Council. Burke has represented his southwest-side ward for 38 years, ever since the death of the previous alderman, his father. He hasn't had an opponent since 1971, though during that time the makeup of the ward has shifted from white ethnic to predominantly Latino and black.

Andrade says many residents have had enough of Burke. "People complain about not getting services, not having an alderman around, not ever seeing him in person--we don't have anything for Latinos over here," she says. "But they're very afraid."

She's had a hard time with campaign volunteers. "I had some," she says, "but little by little, they all disappeared." She says that a man who helped her collect ballot petition signatures was rattled by a visit from Burke workers who wanted to know if he was involved with her campaign, and that another man who took most of her signatures to be notarized disappeared for days without ever turning them in. (He wouldn't comment for this story, and Burke's staff never returned my calls.) She also says that when she called area schools and churches about using their space for a community forum everyone turned her down, and that when she tried to get signatures at the grocery store where she shops the managers threw her out. "They said, 'We're for Alderman Burke.'"

A ward resident--whom Andrade believes is working for Burke--challenged some of the signatures on her petitions, and she had to go through a series of hearings before the board of elections. She says she spent around $2,500 on attorney's fees in the process. "They want me to spend all my money," she says. "This is money I'm supposed to spend on my signs. It's out of my own pocket--who's going to give me money?"

The election board ruled in Andrade's favor, but the person who challenged the signatures appealed to the circuit court. On Monday the court ruled against Andrade, and now she's planning to appeal to the state appellate court.

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