Two forums held earlier this month helped sort out the differences among the five candidates for Mayor of Evanston: Gary Gaspard, Steve Hagerty, Alderman Brian Miller, Jeff Smith, and Alderman Mark Tendam. All five attended the forum on Feb. 4 held at the Civic Center and sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Evanston (LWVE). Three attended a forum at Haven Middle School on Feb. 9, sponsored by the Central Street Neighbors Association (CSNA).
Feb. 4, League of Women Voters Forum
Skokie resident Valerie Krejcie, a member of the LWVE, served as moderator for the Feb. 4 forum. “I live in Skokie. I don’t vote for these people. I don’t know what’s going on,” she told the audience that packed City Council chambers and spilled into the anteroom.
Priorities for the candidates did not differ widely. Most saw problems with gun violence, particularly among youth. All said financial problems should be addressed, characterizing them as challenges of affordability, economic development, housing, or lack of suitable employment.
More distinguishing perhaps were their answers to questions about economic development and forging a consensus.
Promoting Economic Development
Mr. Hagerty said, “Economic development has to be on the top of our mindset. We have to work hard to attract businesses here. We have an opportunity to create an ecosystem of entrepreneurs.” He began his own firm, Hagerty Consulting, with just a handful of employees, and there are now 150.
Mr. Hagerty also said the City could generate a million dollars annually by allowing developers to put up large buildings and developments.
Mr. Gaspard said, “Government has to be fair and equal.” He added that he is pro-business.
Mr. Smith said, “I don’t think we can skyscraper our way to prosperity. I would focus on reducing storefront vacancies, retiring some TIFs [tax-increment financing districts] and replacing them with small-business grants.” He said he would consider creating a “light industrial zone” within the City. He also said he thinks that branding the City as a “green” City would help attract businesses.
Ald. Miller said he favors having residents’ input “at the front end” of when the City considers a project, to make sure it is compatible with the needs and character of the area. “We have two TIFs that are retiring in the next two years. I think we can take the $2 million from the TIFs and the $1 million [in revenues] from new water sales,” to use in part for economic development, he said. He also said he feels the City should continue its training and support of youth.
Ald. Tendam said, “The Mayor has a unique voice in terms of bringing economic development to the City.” He said he favors private-public partnerships, such as is being contemplated with the new Robert Crown Center. … We need to keep restaurants and hotel beds full. A performing arts center is ideal for that. The more money we can bring in from the outside, the better off we will be.”
Forging Consensus Among Competing Organizations
Mr. Gaspard said, “As Mayor, I will advocate for everyone.” He said that, during his brief stint as Township Supervisor, “what I accomplished was transparency.”
Mr. Smith said, “I’m a hopeless rationalist. I believe data and facts will matter – even in the face of ‘alternative facts’ – and persistence pays off.” He said he was a member of the group, small at first, that lobbied successfully several years ago to save the Civic Center when the City Council was looking to sell the property for private development.
Ald. Miller said he was a community organizer in southwestern Indiana between college and law school. He worked with several different faith-based congregations that espoused differing views and together the group helped establish a dental clinic and implemented a pilot program in the local schools.
Ald. Tendam said, “I fought to maintain the branch libraries. … I saw that we needed to have a local funding model, and I worked for that. I also worked with the controversy about the Evanston Animal Shelter. We had a shelter that was hoarding money and hoarding animals. We got a new organization that is working better.”
Mr. Hagerty said, “People want to be informed. They want to understand what’s going on. People want to be heard.” Referring to his chairing the Harley Clarke Committee in 2015, he said, “You got to see how I operate. … We have to work to make sure that our social fabric is a tapestry.”
Feb. 9, CSNA Forum
Only Mr. Gaspard, Ald. Miller, and Mr. Smith attended the Feb. 9 CSNA forum. Mark Sloane, who chaired the CSNA forum, said Ald. Tendam and Mr. Hagerty did not to attend because they had previous engagements.
Two questions that evoked varied answers were how each candidate envisioned the office, duties, and responsibilities of Mayor and how each would deal with Northwestern University
Job of Mayor and Time Commitment
Mr. Smith said, “I look at the Mayor’s job as being close to a full-time job – 30 to 40 hours per week, plus after-hours responsibilities. The Mayor can introduce legislation. I would do my homework, do research. I would approach people whose views differ from mine as though they do not have all the facts. I would treat people with good will and be persistent. I believe that facts matter.”
Ald. Miller said he sees the role of Mayor as “the leader of City Council, setting the agenda for the City. The Mayor is chair of the Council and should be working among all the aldermen. The Mayor should be in the center of all the issues that affect the City, should be involved in decision-making to set the agenda and in crafting legislation.”
Ald. Miller said he spends 25-30 hours per week on his aldermanic responsibilities and, if elected, would expect to have the same level of involvement. He added, “My wife is a saint.” He acknowledged that the role of Mayor has “a lot of ceremonial aspects to it, and I cannot commit to that, but I will be sensitive to my constituents. The important work is what gets done after-hours.”
Mr. Gaspard said, “The role of the Mayor is to be the spokesperson for the people and to work with the City Manager, and to build up relationships with constituents.” He said as Mayor he would be “committed and accessible. As Dr. King said, ‘Whatever you do, put your heart into it.’”
Four Things That Make Evanston Great
Ald. Miller said he believes Evanston has “a collective community consciousness. Who we are as Evanstonians is amazing. The amount of parks and the lakefront are amazing. Our downtown has a remarkable life.”
Mr. Gaspard said, “In Evanston, no one has bothered me about the color of my skin.” Other things he enumerated that make Evanston great are “the North Shore, the lakefront, and the School Districts, 65 and 202.”
Mr. Smith named, first, “the people of Evanston, who are intellectual, creative, moral, and spiritual. We have the lake, the transit lines. We believe that government can occasionally solve a problem. We believe that government is ours and we can make it do things that reflect our values.”
Evanston’s Biggest Problem
Mr. Gaspard named two problems: affordable housing and police-community relations. “There is a tension between the police and the community. I want to be Mayor for brown and black kids. I’m the best person to solve this problem.”
Mr. Smith said, “The biggest problem is that we have committed ourselves to high levels of expectations and kicked the can down the road. Through the soft bigotry of escalating property taxes, we have made ourselves commit to draconian solutions.”
Ald. Miller said the biggest problem is two-fold: police-community relations and crime, particularly gun violence. “We need our police officers to treat every citizen with respect. We need to devote more resources to outreach workers and to mental-health counseling.
Relationship with Northwestern University
Mr. Smith, who has a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern, said, “[Northwestern President] Morton Schapiro has been a real godsend to Evanston. I would come in with a good relationship with Northwestern University. We’ve gone back and forth with Northwestern. Sometimes we get good results. Evanston would not be what it is without Northwestern.”
Ald. Miller, who received his J.D. from Northwestern Law School, said, “I recognize the contributions Northwestern has made to the City. It is a question of balance: Are we getting enough? What we need from Northwestern is an expansion of the Good Neighbor Fund [under which the University contributes $1 million each year to the City and decides equally with the City how the money will be spent]. We could look at the Traffic Institute, the Family Institute [for help]. There are a number of opportunities for utilizing some of the resources that Northwestern has.”
Mr. Gaspard said the City-University relationship should not go backward. “We can catch more flies with sugar than with vinegar.”
Evanston received a C+ on its Parks/Open Space Scorecard
Mr. Smith said, “I love our parks, but they really don’t have the imagination that those of some other towns have. The C+ grade is not something that I would brag about.” Referring to a comment by a City official that the new Robert Crown Center would last only 30 years – about the same number of years it would take to pay off the bonds – he said he does not like the idea that the City would build buildings to last only 30 years.
Mr. Gaspard said he does not want to privatize parks or public spaces. He also said he felt there should be more residents’ input into decisions about the new Robert Crown Center.
“I think park land is sacred,” said Ald. Miller, “This is land everyone can use, regardless of income or other status, and we have to do everything in our power to protect it.” He referred to the $3 million additional revenues the City anticipates from the upcoming retirement of two TIF districts and additional water sales and said they could be leveraged to secure additional funds. “I think we can’t afford not to invest in our parks. We have to devote more resources to our parks.”
The RoundTable covered this issue in its Jan. 12 edition. The story can be found online at evanstonroundtable.com.
Reasons for Running
Mr. Smith said he would like to be Mayor because “I love Evanston. To whom much is given, much should be required.” He said he has spent much of his life in public service and has lifelong advocacy particularly in government. I want to pursue what makes Evanston good. “I want to make Evanston a national leader in sustainability. You and I can make a difference.”
Ald. Miller said he learned about values and service as a student at Evanston Township High School. “We have a history – we stand up for our values. Service is great, but unless we change our system, we are still going to need services. I strive to be an independent voice on City Council. I seek to be an independent voice and help our community move forward.”
Mr. Gaspard said he wants to see the City become more affordable and be more inclusive. He would like to carry on the legacy of Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl,” to improve police-community relations, to get youth off the streets, and to protect undocumented immigrants. He stressed his collegiality with all the other Mayoral candidates.
City Clerk Candidates Weigh In
Rodney Greene and Devon Reid, both candidates for City Clerk, attended the CSNA forum. In answer to the question “What would you change about the office,” incumbent Mr. Greene said, “I would like to see the City Council and the other elected officials and others respect the Clerk. I will increase my knowledge,” he said to the audience of about 75-90 people, “so I can be a better Clerk and give you what you want.”
Mr. Reid said, “The Clerk should take responsibility and clean up the office.” He said he would like to see a change of policy. “County Clerk David Orr is a vibrant, active Clerk, pushing policies. His office is a model.”
Both candidates agreed that the Clerk’s position should remain elected rather than become an appointed one.
“The Clerk should be elected,” said Mr. Reid. “The Clerk should be accountable to no one except the voters of Evanston.”
Mr. Greene said similarly, “It is the people that the Clerk responds to and is responsible to.”