A year into his job today, Ald. James Cappleman (46th Ward) has learned what it takes to survive in the contentious world of Chicago politics: push the issues you care about, but know when to compromise.
From long-fought battles at the city council over budget cuts to negotiating a multi-million dollar renovation of CTA Red Line stops, Cappleman, along with Ald. Tom Tunney (44th Ward), represent the LGBT community in the city’s highest chamber.
He took some time from his busy schedule to talk about the challenges of his job, safety at the annual Pride Parade and revealed his wedding date for the first time (tip: it’s in September).
Chicago Phoenix: What were the challenges of taking over a seat held by another alderman for 24 years?
James Cappleman: The biggest challenge from the onset was just setting up. It took six weeks to have access to any email. It took over a month to get a key to the mailbox at the City Hall. Our staff was using our own cell phones. Setting up office. One month to have access to the mailbox. We discovered very quickly that the process of setting up shop is very time-consuming, very difficult.
CP: What issues in the 46th Ward are on your radar this year?
JC: There’s some major multi-million dollar projects we’re looking at. The number one that’s on our radar is the redevelopment of the Wilson “L” stop, which is a $135 million project. Some work is going to start this year, but it will take probably towards early 2015 before it’s completed, as well as the rehab of the Lawrence and Sheridan “L” stops. And then there’s the Uptown Theater, a $63 million project, of which the Urban Man Institute said crucial for economic development in the 46th Ward. We are doing that with the support of the mayor and many interested parties. We also have some development at a 3750 N. Halsted, there’s a $100 million project that still has to go through committees, and a $200 million project at Clarendon and Montrose, that we’re still in early stages of creating parameters for it. It’s a very, very busy ward.
CP: The LGBT community is worried about safety at the Pride Parade this year. What should we expect?
JC: We learned from times past that having this triangle between Halsted and Broadway just wans’t working. People couldn’t get through. We knew we had to create a new route to avoid that triangle. We’re trying out this new route where the parade will start at Montrose and Broadway. We learned from the process and there will be some revisions afterwards. We won’t know until we try it. Despite of all that, there’s been a lot of planning from the city, and Ald. Tunney and I to make this work. We’ll be sending out notices to the community about all the specific details soon.
CP: Mayor Emanuel joined over 100 other mayors in the nation who support marriage equality. How pro-LGBT rights is the mayor?
JC: Personally speaking, he’s always been very supportive of me and my own partner. He’s done an incredible job of hiring a lot of LGBT people in joining and being part of his staff.
CP: LGBT people live in all parts of the city. Is the city council sensitive of LGBT issues or is it limited to you and Tunney?
JC: I believe they’re incredibly supportive and focused on the issues of the LGBT community. Ald. Tunney and I are openly gay men and the city council will look towards us for feedback, for questions they have. There’s a lot of aldermen who have been open and outspoken about LGBT rights. Ald. Joe Moreno is working with Ald. Tunney and myself towards an ordinance that is going to protect those who are transgender. I’ve always felt there’s support for the LGBT community out there. Many have met my partner and they’re delightfully welcoming of him.
CP: You’re a former Franciscan friar. How do you feel about Cardinal George’s stances on the LGBT community?
JC: I’m a member of Dignity Chicago, which is an LGBT Catholic organization who seeks to change the church’s teaching with regards to same-sex marriage and also to allow the ordination of women. When I was Dignity Chicago’s board president 20 years ago we held a protest outside the cardinal’s mansion asking to be more outspoken about violence towards the LGBT community and to include women in the church’s dialogues. Both Cardinal George and I are baptized Catholics and members of the church, but we take different stances, I’m going to continue to work for the inclusion of the LGBT community in the Catholic Church. We’re already there, we just need to be recognized and supported.
CP: Cuts in the city budget have been hard on low-income and middle-class families. Should we expect more cuts in the future?
JC: The white elephant in the room is the pensions. The police and firefighter pensions will be hitting us in 2013. In the following year, we’re looking at the teachers’ pensions. The deficit for the Chicago Public Schools will go from $600 million to more than $1 billion. I’m committed to working with the mayor to prevent raising our taxes. We need to make sure we’re doing everything possible to attract businesses and to Chicago and make sure they remain in the city. Also to make sure families don’t feel overburdened and remain in the city. That means we have to work a lot smarter. And we haven’t been. We can’t be spending $230 to remove a ton of garbage, when other cities are spending $110 to collect a ton of garbage. And that’s just one example.
There’s a perception that the mayor puts a lot of pressure on the city council and gets whatever he wants. That has not been my experience. The mayor has had his staff available to me 24/7, to answer any questions that I have. And I have called them as late as 10 p.m. to answer some of the questions I had about some tough vote. There have been times when I have not voted with the mayor and I did not fear any retaliation and I did not receive any retaliation for voting no. And there have been some times where I voted yes for something the mayor wanted, but it took a lot of conversation to persuade me to vote that way. The mayor’s job is to see the big picture, and my job is to represent my ward’s residents. I work very well with the mayor and he’s been very fair with me.
CP: The NATO Summit is this weekend. Is Chicago ready for it?
JC: I used to be in health care, and talking with families experiencing health crisis, we used to say “we hope for the best and prepare for the worse.” I feel pretty good about it. I think we’re prepared.
CP: We know you’re getting married this year. Is there a date?
JC: You’re the very first to know. I’ll be getting married on Sept. 8, we just confirmed the date yesterday. I’ll be married by a Catholic priest — and here’s the controversial part — that is an ordained woman. My partner and I tend to be more private people, but we’re making this very public because we believe it’s very important the public sees us as just the typical married couple who just happens to be gay. Both Richard [Thale] and I believe it’s important, it’s going to send a message. As more and more people see same-sex couples are no different from their own marriage of relationship, we’ll reach the full marriage rights sooner.