Crime and affordable housing—issues that just won't go away in the 46th Ward

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Challenger Amy Crawford says the 46th Ward needs more police.
  • Al Podgorski / Sun-Times Media
  • Challenger Amy Crawford says the 46th Ward needs more police.
During his campaigns for alderman in 2007 and 2011, James Cappleman vowed to crack down on crime, saying gang activity and public drinking were discouraging new businesses from coming into the 46th Ward. His solution: more police, which he promised to fund by targeting wasteful spending.

Cappleman won the second race, yet four years later the calls for more police keep coming—this time from his runoff challenger, Amy Crawford.

Both candidates are humming a familiar tune in the 46th Ward, a gentrifying area that includes much of Uptown and parts of Lakeview.

From 1987 to 2011 the ward was led by former alderman Helen Shiller, an affordable housing advocate whom critics accused of being soft on crime. Cappleman made it the centerpiece of his challenge to her in 2007. When she retired four years later, he ran against her legacy and won in a runoff.

Since then, Cappleman has claimed to clamp down on crime while also attacking affordable housing that he considers problematic. Two years ago he fought to close the Chateau Hotel, a single-resident-occupancy hotel in Lakeview that activists call one of the last independent housing options for low-income residents on the north side.

Last year, with his reelection approaching, Cappleman changed his approach to SROs and voted for a temporary citywide moratorium on demolishing them.

He also made headlines by having pigeons deported to Indiana, claiming their poop was damaging the ward.

But he still supports a plan to use $14 million in tax increment financing funds to build two luxury residential towers at the former Maryville hospital site—an abandoned lakefront property that can be developed without city funds, opponents argue.

Cappleman won 47 percent of the vote in the first round of balloting in February, short of the majority needed to avoid a runoff. Crawford, a corporate lawyer, finished 10 percentage points back. A third challenger, Denice Davis, a chief of staff to longtime former alderman Helen Shiller, has since endorsed Crawford.

But instead of campaigning in the left-of-center mode of the former alderman, Crawford has attacked Cappleman whenever possible on what she says are increased crime levels within the ward.

She points to the 2011 consolidation of the 19th and 23rd olice districts, which resulted in the loss of 100 police officers, and alleges that violent crime has increased. Her solution is more cops, or at least a reallocation of them to the 19th district, and she's won the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police.

A look at crime data in the 46th Ward shows a downward trend since 2012. And Cappleman says plans for more police are already in the works.

"Ten years ago, we had five gangs and they were selling drugs like a lemonade stand and we were seeing massive amounts of fighting in the middle of the street," says Cappleman. Now only two gangs fight for turf in the ward, he says. "We are now seeing gang members who feel threatened they will go extinct."

On Wednesday, a source at the 19th district police station said off-record that he hadn't heard of any plans for more police with the district.

And Crawford says less gangs doesn't equal reduced crime.

"The notion that because you go from five gangs to two there's less crime, that's ludicrous," Crawford said. "If you ask [Cappleman], all the problems in the 46th Ward are about to get fixed as soon as we elect him. It's just more overpromising and underdelivering, and I think voters are tried of cynical campaign rhetoric."

Affordable housing activists have been outraged by Cappleman for most of his term, but they aren't necessarily going to find a bosom buddy in Crawford either. She has said she doesn't see the need for new low-income housing options in the ward and sides with Cappleman on the Maryville site plans.

Yet Crawford says she would be a different presence in the City Council than Cappleman. He's a staunch supporter of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's agenda and says he and the mayor "work well together." Crawford has remained mum on the mayoral race but pledged to join the council's progressive caucus, which regularly opposes Emanuel.

So far, pigeon removal remains pretty much the only 46th Ward topic more contentious than either crime or housing. And on that subject, you best believe Cappleman stands alone.

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