New city development gatekeeper clinging to aldermanic job by narrowest of margins

The 46th Ward race between Alderman James Cappleman and scientific research consultant Marianne Lalonde won't officially be decided for weeks
By Joe Ward | April 02, 2019 10:10PM

The new chairman of the City Council’s Zoning Committee, Alderman James Cappleman (46th), was in a dead heat with challenger Marianne Lalonde in Tuesday’s runoff election.

Cappleman, a two-term alderman, had just a 23-vote lead over Lalonde after all of the more than 13,000 ballots cast Tuesday were counted. But the race won’t be officially decided until all of the ward’s mail-in ballots are tallied in the coming weeks.

Cappleman did not garner enough support in February’s election to avoid the runoff, and the race allowed residents to weigh in on the development boom in Uptown that has taken place during Cappleman’s eight years in office.

Cappleman OK’d a number of major residential projects in his ward, including JDL Development’s 25-story Eight Eleven Uptown, which received tax increment financing to help re-develop a blighted corner in Uptown.

Clayco brought a 149-unit complex to Uptown during Cappleman’s tenure, and the alderman also approved a 197-unit building at Wilson and Broadway. The projects included the minimum number of required on-site affordable units.

The changes in the ward have been divisive. Skyrocketing property values have coincided with a surge in the ward’s affluent population, while other groups have fled or been forced out.

After taking over as head of the Zoning Committee in January for disgraced Ald. Danny Solis (25th), Cappleman was thrust to the forefront of the Lincoln Yards approval process a month before the February election.

Cappleman called on Sterling Bay to increase the number of on-site affordable units at the massive North Side development from the minimum 300 out of 6,000 units.  Sterling Bay obliged, doubling the number of planned affordable units on the eve of the committee’s vote.

But the committee’s vote to approve Lincoln Yards did not go smoothly. As chairman, Cappleman tried to postpone the vote so Sterling Bay’s tweaks could be further reviewed. But he was overruled by his colleagues on the panel, who voted to forward the project to the City Council for final approval.

Cappleman’s turn as Zoning Committee chairman has been a boon to his campaign coffers, with real estate industry professionals donating at least $72,400 in the two months since he was named to the post. Those donations account for 24 percent of all funds Cappleman has raised since June.

It isn’t just private development that has seen a boost from Cappleman’s tenure. The alderman oversaw a number of public development projects as well, including a $200 million rebuilding of the Wilson Red Line station. Cappleman also helped steer public funds to help with Farpoint Development’s $75 million Uptown Theatre overhaul.

Cappleman garnered about 44 percent of the vote in the Feb. 26 election, with Lalonde, a scientific research consultant, coming in second with 18 percent. Also running in the race were Erika Wozniak-Francis, Angela Clay, Justin Kreindler and Jon-Robert McDowell.