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The big shoes to fill are, at some times, dancing shoes.
With Mayor Lorraine Morton’s retirement from public office at the end of her current term, the field of mayoral candidates stands now at three and may be growing. Seventh Ward Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, Plan Commission member Stuart Opdycke, and preservationist Jeanne Lindwall have all picked up mayoral packets, according to the City Clerk’s office.
Although the Mayor does not have a lot of power, given Evanston’s weak mayor/strong City manager form of government, all three candidates said they have definite ideas about what they would wish to accomplish as mayor.
Ald. Tisdahl, who also served on the District 202 School Board for eight years, was appointed alderman when Stephen Engelman retired mid-term and won re-election for this current term.
Asked why she wished to be mayor, Ald. Tisdahl told the RoundTable she would like to work on the City’s financial problems from a different perspective. Alluding to the City’s pension fund liabilities, which exceed $145 million, she said, “I worked on trying to discover whether we did or didn’t owe that money. Having found out that we did owe it, I would like to be more than the prophet of doom and gloom. I would like to work on a solution to this.”
She added, “There will have to be budget cuts this year.”
Ald. Tisdahl said she would exercise her leadership by emphasizing mayoral powers in two areas: appointing committees and lobbying. “The mayor has a leadership role not in appointing committees but in creating them. I’m interested in appointing an economic advisory committee that would use the talents of Northwestern University and get some help from the best business school in the country.” She said the City staff members do a “good job of helping and attracting business, but their time is limited.
“They don’t have the time to give an overall look at where the economy is going and what will work in this economy.”
Ald. Tisdahl also said she would be a lobbyist as well as an ambassador for Evanston. “I would very much like to go to Washington to lobby for federal money for Evanston,” she said. As a District 202 Board member, she lobbied in Springfield for Evanston schools. “If they are giving out money for infrastructure,” she said, “I’d like to see that Evanston gets its share.”
Mr. Opdycke, another former District 202 Board member, serves as vice-chair of the Plan Commission. A lifelong Evanston resident, Mr. Opdycke says he would like to be mayor because “I love this town.” He added that he would like to “give back to this community that has given me and my family so much. Living here is a rich experience.”
The City’s financial problems – the long-term pension problem as well as the crunch expected in the upcoming budget – are the City’s greatest challenges. “The [2009-10] budget will be a template for the budgets in the following years: whatever taxes [the Council imposes], what programs they cut,” Mr. Opdycke says.
He says he would also “like to explore ways that bridges can be built between the University and the City.”
If he were elected mayor, Mr. Opdycke says he “would expect to weigh in on matters of importance” and would “articulate a point of view” that he hopes would be heeded. “There’s a place for the mayor to influence and form a consensus when possible,” he said. Mr. Opdycke also says he considers the mayor’s power to appoint board and commission members as significant: “These people do a lot of work.” He added, “The greatest resource of the community is its citizens. We have talent and energy. We have a very big heart. We love the arts. We have more than 100 churches and synagogues and tremendous cultural and ethnic diversity. It’s a great place to live.”
Mr. Opdycke noted that residents of Evanston are “not shy about telling government when they think it is wrong.” He also said recent discourse in Evanston “has gotten rather hot. … I don’t mind the kitchen.”
Finally, he quipped, “Becoming mayor is the only way I can get into the Fourth of July parade.”
Although Jeanne Lindwall has not been an employee of the City for about 15 years, she is almost a fixture at budget, Plan Commission and many other meetings. She was the City’s first Preservation Coordinator, and she worked on the City’s 1985 comprehensive plan and the 1989 downtown plan and several of the City’s capital improvement plans.
A planning consultant, she now works with communities on “consensus-building, economic development and fiscal impact analysis – that is analyzing the financial impact of certain municipal decisions on local communities. She told the RoundTable she feels that, given her professional experience and knowledge of how the City of Evanston works, “This is the best way to make a contribution to the community and move us [forward].”
With Evanston’s “many challenges, including the police and fire pension fund liabilities,” Ms. Lindwall says she would like to sharpen the dialogue about economic development in Evanston. “We need to discuss what kind of development is the right kind of development for Evanston to be able to compete regionally. … I don’t know that that discussion has occurred,” she said. In addition, Ms. Lindwall says she would “continue to promote investment in Evanston” and find ways of “making better use of the economic tools we have in place.”
As mayor, Ms. Lindwall also says she would promote civic engagement. By getting boards and commissions “staffed by the best people, I think we can really broaden the community decision-making process and pull more people in.” She says she would like to see City Council accept the results of the volunteer boards and commissions rather than having aldermen “go over them again and again. … It’s a different way of doing the City’s business.”
Finally, says Ms. Lindwall, “I’d like to see the City get its Aaa rating back from Moody’s. We had it for more than 30 years, and it’s a good thing to get back.”
City Clerk Rodney Green said at the Sept. 22 City Council meeting that packets for all candidates would be available at the clerk’s office. Candidates for Mayor may now circulate petitions to be placed on the ballot, and Oct. 28 is the first day for candidates for alderman, City Clerk, Township Supervisor and Township Assessor to begin circulating petitions.
If four persons file petitions for mayor, then the City will hold a primary election on Feb. 24, 2009. A spokesperson for County Clerk David Orr said the County Clerk’s office will certify mayoral petitions and set the primary.
Meanwhile the City Clerk’s office is assuming there will be a primary election, said Deputy City Clerk Mayre Press. The deadline for filing mayoral petitions for a primary election is Dec. 15, according to the City’s website.
Candidates for other City and Township offices have until Jan. 26, 2009 to file petitions.
The General Election will be held on April 7, 2009.