A former teacher, Franciscan friar, and social worker, Alderman Cappleman has spent his career fighting for social justice. In 1987, he co-founded Chicago’s first homeless shelter dedicated to providing care for people living with HIV/AIDS. Formerly a licensed clinical social worker, James served three years as chair of the Illinois’ National Association of Social Workers’ HIV Task Force.
James received the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award from the University of Chicago Medical Center in recognition for his efforts to address racism. This work started in high school, when he helped organize a student club that highlighted the effects of racism on campus. He has been honored by numerous organizations for his work fighting on behalf of the homeless, domestic violence victims and those living with HIV/AIDS.
One of James’ proudest accomplishments as Alderman has been finding housing for 96 previously homeless residents who were living in inhumane conditions under the Lake Shore Drive viaducts back in 2017. This effort was so successful that it is now being used in other parts of the city to obtain housing for people trapped in the cycle of homelessness. Alderman Cappleman also pushed the City to develop a system whereby social service agencies collaborate and coordinate better so people in need can get services – and results – in a more timely manner.
To address the challenge of people living with mental illness going in and out of the prison system, Alderman Cappleman sponsored a resolution in 2017 that called for the City of Chicago, Cook County, and the State of Illinois to collaborate and introduce interventions to reduce prison recidivism, especially among those experiencing mental illness. As a result, both the State of Illinois and Cook County now refer released prisoners to City programs which help them find full-time employment. Alderman Cappleman continues supporting interventions that are results-oriented and that can document real success for people who need help.
Soon after his election in 2011, James worked with business owners, the Chicago Police, and Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office to address violent crime in the Uptown area. Today, Uptown has the lowest violent crime rate in its history, and one of the lowest crime rates throughout the city. In 2020, TimeOut Magazine named Uptown one of the coolest communities in the world. After successfully securing the $203M renovation of the Wilson CTA station, he focused his efforts on creating an entertainment district for the area. This has resulted in having Double Door choose to move here, as well as the famous Baton Show Lounge. His success in securing a partnership to renovate our treasured Uptown Theatre – a goal of neighborhood preservationists for over 35 years – will make our ward an even more vibrant and attractive place to live, work and socialize.
James strengthens our voice by serving on important Chicago City Council Committees including Budget and Government Operations, Committees and Rules, Education and Child Development, Ethics and Government Oversight, Environmental Protection and Energy, Housing and Real Estate, License and Consumer Protection, and Human Relations and Health where he serves as Vice Chair.
Prior to becoming Alderman, James was active with the Uptown Chicago Commission and served two terms as their board president. He also served on the board of directors for Annie’s Legacy, a Southside not-for-profit organization that empowered women who had experienced abuse and poverty.
James has a Bachelor of Science degree in Education from the University of Houston and a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree from UIC’s Jane Addams School of Social Work. He lives on Kenmore Street in the Uptown neighborhood with his husband, Richard Thale. Richard is chair of the 19th Police District’s Court Advocacy Committee, serves as the CAPS beat facilitator for Beat 1914, and Court Advocacy Chair for the 19th Police District. Together they have worked to improve the lives of Uptown residents and neighbors.