Shiller defends legacy at forum

March 28, 2011
Like a prizefighter past their prime, a referee who doesn't 'get' it or an aging child star recalled for a bit part, Monday's 46th Ward forum at Truman College starred someone who wasn't on the marquee: Helen Shiller. The retiring alderman moderated a forum between James Cappleman and Molly Phelan. Moderating in this case meaning she drilled James Cappleman to support keeping a city funded health clinic open in the Uptown neighborhood. Lecturing and interrupting Cappleman, then taking issue with Phelan, she asked the candidates to defend statements made by supporters who had led an assault on her management of the Ward. At one point, Shiller noted that Wilson Yards, a controversial project funded in part by TIF funds, was a done deal. “Supporters of both of you” opposed the project, she declared. Then she asked what the candidates would do to support the project moving forward. It was an electric performance, as promised, by a divisive personality. “Shiller is a big personality,” Owen Brugh, Molly Phelan's communications campaign manager said. “I think she contributed a lot- she was a big draw for people” tonight. Lauren Peters, Cappleman's campaign manager, said about the Shiller performance “it was an opportunity for her to protect things she's protected for 24 years.” Neither campaign would characterize Shiller's interruptions and lectures as out of line. Peters noting that Cappleman respected Shiller's desire to defend herself. Cappleman's partner, Richard Thale, said he was confused by Shiller's questions. “she was giving 'interesting' worded questions,” Thale said. “I had trouble understanding her at times.” In two days of 46th Ward debate, it was not the shadow of Shiller's management of the Ward but finally Shiller herself who came to dominate the final debate in the divided ward.

Aldermanic candidate James Cappleman, Ald. Thomas Tunney and retiring Ald. Helen Shiller at Truman College forum, Mon. Mar. 28. Credit: Jane Rickard

Phelan came off as the slightly greener of the two candidates, fumbling answers about TIFs (no, they don't 'take' money from public schools. But they do force taxes to increase faster because there is a smaller tax base for the public schools to use.) and SSAs (Special Service Areas are limited to spending money directly related to the SSA. Thus they cannot help deter crime even a block away from their districts. Plus there are issues with the use of SSAs to provide city services seen in Ravenswood). Cappleman meanwhile caused a murmur in the crowd as he defended the city's right to license and control temporary housing for the homeless. Saying he had helped found a shelter himself, he called on minimum standards such as locked cabinets for pharmaceuticals. That drew a rebuke from Shiller who noted she wasn't aware of any case of a homeless shelter holding pharmaceuticals and from Phelan who said such controls would only increase the costs associated with providing the short-term housing. Phelan comes off as a bit stiff in front of a group. One woman noted her Coach bag, complete with a Coach leather tag though the moment that comes to mind was at the People's Church forum. There, Phelan and Cappleman were asked to ask the other candidate one question. Phelan used the opportunity to ask a softball question of Cappleman. The overall affect was puzzlement among the crowd. Why not use the opportunity to differentiate herself from her opponent? The reason may be that Phelan wants to be the everyman, but knows she appears stiff. It happened again at Truman as Tunney asked the two candidates about the Cubs. Phelan responded with a comment about the Cubs going all the way. That drew applause and some light laughter too. It was a moment that may have marked Phelan as one of us: A person who believes despite the evidence. That time it may have worked to demonstrate Phelan isn't so stiff. Cappleman's biggest asset is the large group of supporters he brings to the forums. When asked about why a particular building is so enthusiastic about his candidacy, supporters talk about how he helped them organize the positive loitering campaign they credit with discouraging crime. And that too summarizes Cappleman. Not only does he have plans, he has often walked the walk on community issues in Uptown. *** UPDATE 3/29/2011 11.22 Owen Brugh was misidentified as Molly Phelan's campaign manager. Mr. Brugh is the communications manager for the campaign. The campaign manager is Karen Lazar. We regret the error. ***   *** UPDATE 3/29/2011 11.38 AND we spelled Ald. Shiller's name incorrectly on every line. DUH! Sorry***  

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23 Responses to Shiller defends legacy at forum

  1. Jeffrey Littleton on March 29, 2011 at 7:01 am

    I am so tired of hearing how Mr. Cappleman has “worked”, “helped”, or “walked”. etc. for so many years without one iota of analysis on the impact or lack there of.
    We have many activists in Uptown, not just James.
    If James greatest asset is the large group of positive loitering supporters he brings to forums I say……BIG DEAL!! How has it really helped? Specifics…not many because there are none.
    How exactly would this quality of his attract business to the ward for instance?
    In the course of this campaign I have come to realize that while it is true Shiller was divisive, James Cappleman represents the other side of that division, the rest of us are in the middle and voting for Molly Phelan.
    We have had enough division, grandstanding, over-blown recitations of accomplishments and this feeling that a particular candidate feels entitled to represent us.
    We need UNITY in Uptown….we need Molly Phelan!!
    Thank you for your coverage WPB.

    Jeffrey Littleton

    P.S. I used to participate in the boxing program at Welles Park as youngster…..good times…..memories……

  2. Jon on March 29, 2011 at 7:35 am

    Jeffrey, you are not in the middle. You live in government subsidized housing and are, and have been, very anti-Cappleman from the beginning. You hate the fact he wants to license homeless shelters so they have a minimum safety factor. Please, tell the truth moving forward… do not act like you are in the are solidly to the extreme left… but nice try…

  3. spartan on March 29, 2011 at 8:02 am

    Great article! Of course, the comments always go astray…

    How has Molly ever proposed uniting us, Jeffrey Littleton? I feel very divided from her supporters by her negative campaign tactics.

  4. Bee Taman on March 29, 2011 at 8:51 am

    The point Jeffrey is that Cappleman has been involved in this neighborhood. Maybe his efforts and activism have helped, maybe not. But at the very least he has been doing more than Shiller in terms of trying to deter crime and make the ward a better place. I don’t think he has to be ashamed of his record. He is trying to do something, anything to make this neighborhood better. He has been one of the only ears listening to constituents over the past several years.

    Molly Phelan on the other hand was a pretty foreign person to the people of Uptown until just recently in her failed attempt to stop Wilson Yard. Her Fix Wilson Yard group told and published many “untruths” about the facts of Wilson Yard including several statements that Target was not committed to a store on the site. If you drive down Broadway at around Sunnyside you’ll notice a huge building with a big red target on it- the Target Store Ms. Phelan said would not be part of the project. I have a very difficult time believing in someone who so blatantly misled many people in Uptown. I attended several of the Fix Wilson Yard meetings along with my neighbors next door. We all walked away commenting on how that group was manipulating numbers and facts about the housing units, retail space, and Target.

    Cappleman resides in a section of the ward that is a blighted area- riddled with the shootings, crimes, lackluster landlords, problematic buildings, etc. Phelan on the other hand lives in Buena Park, and much like Shiller lives in a section of the ward that is clearly detached from all the problems we live and breath every single day. While Cappleman is living in the war zone, Shiller and Phelan reside stateside at some Club Med-like section of town.

    As for this debate, I believe this is the most I’ve heard from Shiller in the nearly 9 years I’ve been in this ward. I’ve attended many of the town hall meetings to address crime where I’ve seen Shiller sit with the crowd and absorb instead of lead with passion and conviction. Nice to see she’s on top of things now that her tenure is numbered.

    We need James Cappleman for the 46th. We need someone who is already entrenched in the ward issues- particularly crime. His solutions may not all be successful, but at least they come from a realistic perspective. Sure he proposes street beautification projects- an idea fostered by the police commander of the district as well. If our major thoroughfares were more walkable and attractive they would certainly appeal to more foot traffic and the presence of more foot traffic will, in the long term, detract crime. If I were Phelan, I would not be so quick to scoff at that…look at Lakeview, Andersonville, Edgewater, Ravenswood. All these areas invested in beautification projects and all of them attract more foot traffic that deters crime.

    I will say, of the 11 candidates that ran, we do in fact have the best in the runoff.

  5. Dave on March 29, 2011 at 9:21 am


    I do’t know how long you have lived in Uptown, but 2 or 3 years ago Molly put together Fix Wilson Yard to stop the development that now houses low income residents as well as the new Target. In my opion attempting to stop low income housing in the 46th ward is far more divisive than James’ positive loitering events. I’m not trying to preach here and say anything negative about Molly because I was a contributor to FWY. I’m opposed to the TIF abuse in this city because the city needs those tax dollars for schools and infrastructure, not to be lining the pockets of developers. I just think her very public stance against a project containing low income house wwould be very divisive among the low income residents of the 46th ward.

    That being said, the 46th ward is in a much better place with either candidate than it was with Helen Shiller.

  6. John on March 29, 2011 at 10:33 am


    As someone who has lived in Uptown for nearly a decade, I can attest to the work that James Cappleman has done to help improve our neighborhood. His efforts can be seen especially with 920 West Lakeside, a formerly troubled building that has become a great neighbhor, and improvements on Clifton (also known as Blood Alley). James has also been clear on what he wants to do, but is limited as a community advocate and not an elected official. That is one of the reasons he has worked WITH our elected officials, such as 44th ward Alderman Tom Tunney (as Tom pointed out at the debate last night). Please show me one area where Molly has impacted positive change in the 46th ward?

    Earlier in this election season, I personally spoke with Molly in wide-ranging discussion of issues facing our ward. When I asked her about affordable housing, she said that she was absolutely against additional affordable housing in neighborhood, and that she wanted to transfer ownership of existing affordable housing to a tax-free trust, and that she thinks there is “too much” affordable housing in our ward. Well, suddenly she has changed her tune, or has she? Molly tells you what you want to hear. Since I am a condo owner, she told me she is against affordable housing. To a renter in subsidized housing, she will tell you she will help you keep your home. I truly despise this bold faces lies – which Molly Phelan will show up to be our Alderman?

    I think Molly is a polished speaker and someone who clearly has a vision for her political career. I am not willing to take a chance on the future of Uptown with a someone who lacks accomplishments other than interning a decade ago for a city department or working for her family’s law firm. James Cappleman has the experience, vision, passion and collaboration necessary to make the 46th ward an even better, safer and more properous place to live.

    And, for those of you who say James Cappleman represents the “other side” of Shiller voters, you clearly have not take the opportunity to get to know James. He is one of the most compassionate people that I have ever met, and he truly cares about everybody in our neighborhood should be able to live in safe environment.

  7. Elaine on March 29, 2011 at 10:48 am

    Eight or nine years ago, the CHA scattered site housing on my block had one family, just one family, that was in a gang and dealt drugs. The gang members actually had recliners that they set up in front on the sidewalk, and our block was very much affected by them. Kids who lived in the block were afraid to play outside; people who lived in the housing were afraid to leave their apartments. Drug deals went on all day. We called 911 many times and finally the family who were behind the drug dealing got arrested and convicted.

    Richard and James became aware of the situation, and worked with the CHA to ensure that the family got evicted under the One Strike Law that is so often ignored in Chicago and Uptown. The family left and our block is so much better for it. A good law-abiding family moved in and kids play on the sidewalks again. Our block is free again, thanks to James and Richard’s actions.

    No one knows about this except that I tell the story. James and Richard never mention it. How many other “good deeds” have they done that never get heard about? They are true community activists. James had my vote four years ago and has it again now. He took action as a private citizen that made our block a much better place; how much more can he do with the power of the aldermanic office behind him?

  8. No C in Shiller on March 29, 2011 at 11:36 am

    You have her name misspelled throughout.

  9. Suzanne Elder on March 29, 2011 at 11:49 am

    Nice to see you at the forum last night, Patrick. I thought the forum was very good. Helen added her own touch, true, but I think she was right to set the record straight, hold the candidates to account for their positions on Wilson Yard, and push them for direct, unequivocal answers. In comparison to audience members, including myself, who were asking far more challenging questions among ourselves, Helen was gentle.

    One small item: TIFs do divert dollars from schools. Tax dollars that would otherwise go to schools, go to other projects meant to spur development. Municipalities hope these developments will, one day, recoup the tax credit and begin to generate new tax revenue.

    Think about it this way. If TIF districts did not exist for the past 20 years, CPS would have realized millions more dollars than they have. Opportunities costs. They ain’t just theoretical :-))

    Is that “taking”? Not in the sense of taking back already apportioned dollars, true, but I’d still characterize it as taking–especially during the pre-crash, cheap credit-fueled housing bubble when the increments out-sized Kilimanjaro.

    You are correct about how TIFs burden the base and why taxes must be increased to replace those diverted dollars, but the diverted balance is never entirely replaced, which which schools, parks, libraries, etc. are chronically shorted.

  10. billyjoe on March 29, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    I’m speaking as someone who is well aware of the about longtime crazy, thieving, vandalizing, and murdering behavior in Uptown (now set to increase as the weather warms), and as someone who regularly reads the harping, wailing, and antagonstic posts and commentary on the “Uptown Update” blog:

    You’d have to be totally ignorant, misinformed, or nuts to want to live in this area of Chicago

  11. Brendan Dickus on March 29, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    Though I did not attend the Truman debate, I have to take issue with your parenthetical commentary about how TIFs operate.

    TIFs DO take money away from the public schools. Period.

    The “increment” is money that, if it was not diverted to the TIF fund, would normally to the Chicago Public Schools, Chicago City Colleges, Chicago Park District and Cook County operating funds.

    That’s not a reduction of the tax base. The tax base is there. The money is simply being sent elsewhere. THAT is what forces CPS, CCC, CPD, etc. to raise taxes as a result of the TIF slush funds.

  12. Scott Grams on March 29, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    I attended last night’s debate. I was really expecting to see two diametrically opposed candidates. I was expecting to hear differences in policy and opinions. I am as independent as they come but this was just the same candidate with two heads.

    I truly believe Molly and James are the most capable of the 11 candidates who ran. I have watched supporters of each candidate wage war on Uptown Update for the past 2 months. This lead me to believe that each candidate had distinct differences in their approach to change and/or revitilazation in Uptown. I can only think of maybe 1 or 2 answers in last night’s debate that were different (licensing of homeless shelters and use of TIFs for specifically named projects). The rest of the debate featured two candidates agreeing with each other without even knowing it.

    This is not necessarily a bad thing but did surprise me.

    I heard a better point-by-point discussion of how to improve conditions for the homeless than for people who have homes. I heard more discussion on LGBT issues than how to improve the corner of Wilson and Broadway. Are those even issues in the top 5 for this Ward right now?

    What I like about James was that he obviously understands working within the system to create change. He is pragmatic and reasonable in his approach to improving Uptown. He seems to appreciate small wins that snowball into larger ones.

    What I like about Molly is that she has a vision for the Ward that simply was not matched by James (at least last night). Her entertainment district idea, although tenuous, is better than no vision at all. I like that her vision takes what we love about Uptown and owns it. Wrigleyville used to be a dump until they started to market the Cubs. Wicker Park was a dump until they realized that hipsters and artists hate crime as equally as strip malls and managed to have a neighborhood mostly devoid of both.

    Successful alderman are two people: manager and visionary. I think James would make a better manager and Molly a better visionary. Crap! I’m back to square one.

    On another note, I have really been bothered by the attacks on Molly Phelan on UU and other places. I think they are way off base. James seems like a wonderful man but that is self-evident and does not need to be reinforced by labeling Molly Phelan as some type of absent-minded, outsider. I just don’t see Cap saying what I have seen his supporters say about Molly. It really puts a black stain on his campaign when he appears to be nothing but decent.

    Lastly, Helen Shiller was embarassing last night. She was incoherent. Did not listen to any of the responses. And used the debate to defend policies and decisions that are the second worst form of government behind corrupt government; out-of-touch government. Both Molly and James would give her straight answers to her meandering questions and then she would call them out for not being straightforward. I used to think the Shiller attacks were overblown but she acted like a clown last night and I’m thrilled to see her gone. She used a public forum to try and cement a legacy that exists only in her mind. So sad.

    I am still torn on who to vote for. I am pleased I can’t go wrong becuse of the similarities with the candidates but dissapointed that the radical ideas of one candidate will not temper the ideas of the other. And compromise is good for government and good for Uptown.

  13. Jeffrey Littleton on March 29, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    @ Bee Tamen, I wont reply to the anonymous avatars, they have Uptown update for for their “keep me secret snark”. But for the record my roots in the community go back before I was born…thank you and “nice try”.

    Molly in my opinion is the choice for unity because she has reached out across the community in ways James simply has not.
    Her proposal to set-up a tip line for residents in subsidized housing is bold gutsy and appreciated.
    Molly is against setting up a committee to make zoning variances, that is a big deal. Who is going to be on this committee…he has never answered that, how it would work? Its a good question…unanswered.
    I had a very open mind going into this election, I moderated 8 candidate forums without without one hint or charge of bias.
    I am also an artist and inspired by Molly’s proposal to put art and culture front and center in revitalizing Uptown…it that so wrong? Certainly not because we all will benefit. I asked James personally at the Borders debate how he felt about Pop-up galleries and he said “no”, he was in favor of artists putting their art in the windows but that is it.
    Well that is what artists ca do FOR Uptown, Molly is proposing something a lot more substantial and engaging. I have no problem with hanging my art in windows free of charge and accepting full liability. In fact I have my art in a window on Granville at Broadway…go ahead and check it out, we can do that here in Uptown but we need to do more for artists.
    Artists have suffered as much or more than anybody in this slumping economy. And our culture has suffered in Uptown for the lack of arts.
    This is my opinion…I stand by it…in my name.


    Jeffrey Littleton

  14. Jon Trott on March 29, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    I thought Helen Shiller underscored her positive contributions to this Ward, and did so in a manner both professional and not overly intrusive to the overall proceedings. Such a thought is heresy in some quarters. Ah, well. I did not know that she is the longest-serving woman on Chicago’s City Counsel… ever. That was a fun fact that made me smile.

    Re Molly and James. Both of these people are people hungry to serve, and I for one am certainly thankful for that. I do think their visions are significantly different — both from Helen’s and from each others’.

    James may have started a homeless shelter, but his ideas on homeless shelters are unworkable, as Molly’s response to his ‘license for shelters’ idea ably illustrated. Furthermore, on the topic of homelessness, James’ 2001 letter (see my blog) to the editors of the Chicago Tribune offers feelings and thoughts re the homeless that aren’t consonant with reality.

    There is a long history involved with James… and it is one that has been painful for some of us. Worse, his backers’ main blogsite, Uptown Update, has been downright abusive of Helen Shiller, calling her in no less than six incidents over three or four years “Shitler” (just to name one moniker hung on this Jewish Alderwoman by the site).

    For those reasons, I cannot vote for James. If he is elected, I will certainly attempt to aid him in making Uptown a better place. I have cast my early ballot for Molly Phelan.

    • Patrick Boylan on March 30, 2011 at 1:29 am

      We discussed a second older letter from James the other day. Do you have that to share? I can’t see it on Blue Christian.


      [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

  15. Susan Biggram on March 29, 2011 at 9:06 pm

    You are very biased jeffrey littleton; I am very glad you’re not the “middle” voter.

  16. NewNck on March 30, 2011 at 1:14 am

    I went last night and don’t care for James. I wasn’t his supporter in 2007 because I thought Helen was a better candidate and the right person for the job. However, I didn’t dislike James until about a month afterward when he got drunk at a fundraiser I attended and decided it be a good idea to shoot his mouth off about the Mayor and leaders I respect in Chicago.

    You may not agree with me or my respect for Mayor Daley but there is nothing more divisive(or classless) than drunkenly shooting your mouth off because you’re bitter you lost. When you lose you rally around the winner(s) and work on unifying the groups to work toward a great good… Maybe I am an idealist but isn’t that just civics 101? And for that matter shouldn’t someone who claims to have the best interest of this ward want nothing more than to unify it after a very negative election(like 2007 turned out to be?)

    Molly certainly isn’t one the most polished candidates but that’s one of the reasons I voted for her(I voted early today). I appreciated her direct answers. She’s laid out some pretty great plans and there was far less double speak and pandering coming from her side of the debate.

    Do I think James has done some great work in the 46th? Definitely. Do I think he’d make a good elected official? NO

    The last thing our ward needs is a freshman alderman, by definition with little to no influence, already starting off on the wrong foot, that doesn’t have enough self control to keep his mouth shut to build relationships or gain trust from his colleagues around the city to bring great things to our ward.

    In my mind its was a pretty easy choice and I hope the 46th tells James the same thing we told him in 2007.

  17. Jon on March 30, 2011 at 8:21 am

    NewNick.. you are an idiot and a liar. Cappleman is ALLERGIC to alcohol. It is physically impossible for him to get drunk. I hope that the owner of this site confirms this with the Cappleman campaign and takes down your hateful and 100% inaccurate comment.

  18. Jon Trott on March 30, 2011 at 9:56 am

    A couple perhaps useless further comments…

    First, Patrick — the second 2001 Tribune letter from James Cappleman can be found in this blog post of mine:

    Second, I do wish we could stay away from trashing people’s personhood… James Cappleman is a decent man who cares about Uptown and the rest of the 46th Ward. I think he’s wrong on some key issues and did not vote for him (I early voted for Molly). That said, I *hate* the politics of personalities rather than issues. If Molly loses, I expect I’ll work with James to make Uptown a better place.

    I abhor what has been done to Helen Shiller over the years by those disagreeing with her policies. They went after her integrity as a person, and in the most disgusting ways. I won’t say more there…. because to say more would require a book.

  19. John on March 30, 2011 at 10:51 am

    Our community has been so divided by the politics of the past. I firmly believe the 46th Ward is excited for a change in leadership and to put the division of the past behind us. The treatment of both Helen Shiller and James Cappleman during past elections has been abhorrant, and I think all parties should be ashamed of their behavior. And, Molly Phelan’s unethical negative campaign tactics (including her last three mailers) are equally divisive.

    That was then. This is 2011, and Alderman Shiller has decided to retire, and is therefore no longer a factor in the 46th Ward aldermanic race. I have known James Cappleman for the past six years, and I can think of at least twenty different initiatives that he was worked on to make our neighborhood a better place since I met him. Two of my favorite traits that James has are his honesty and compassion for all people.

    I approached this election with an open mind, and attended several debates and forums where I got to hear all eleven candidates state their positions. I also personally spoke to several candidates, but spent the most time with Molly, James and Emily. To be honest, I was impressed with Molly when I talked to her. We had a great conversation, and despite my experience with James, I considered supporting her. Then, she began to her give different answers to the same questions that I asked her in public forums and on television interviews. She is more than glad to tell a condo owner that she wants no more affordable housing, and will do everything in her power as alderman to reduce what she has, but when she talks to someone in Mercy Housing or JPUSA, she tells a very different story. Lying to get votes is unethical and should not be tolerated in our ward.

    I do not agree with all of the policy positions that James Cappleman has. But, in the last six years, I have only known James to be open and honest with my and everyone that he interacts with. I think it is very telling that six of the other nine aldermanic candidates are not just endorsing, but actively supporting James. NONE of them are supporting Molly. James has built bridges in this community over the last decade, and I trust him to do the same as alderman of our ward. If honesty and open communication and collaboration are important values to you, James Cappleman is your candidate.

  20. Jon Trott on March 30, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    Well, re truth-telling in campaign literature (wink)… I have to point out that James’ last piece started out with an untruth, one I document here:

  21. Jon Trott on April 2, 2011 at 9:32 am

    Oh my, another comment from James in 2008 leaves little doubt as as to his motivations for suggesting ‘licensing shelters’:

  22. NewNck on April 11, 2011 at 11:49 pm

    HA! Doesn’t really matter if I care for him or not at this point looks like he is the alderman. For the record I am neither and idiot nor a liar. I saw him with my own two eyes as did an entire room full of people…