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.
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***