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The Rotary Club of Evanston held the first mayoral forum of the campaign at a luncheon meeting on Jan. 15. The four mayoral candidates, Elizabeth Tisdahl, Stuart Opdycke, Jeanne Lindwall and Barnaby Dinges, gave brief presentations on their backgrounds and were then asked to identify two or three of their goals, to explain how they would promote economic development, and how they would deal with the City’s deficit.
Goals as Mayor?
Ms. Tisdahl, currently alderman of the Seventh Ward, said, “I am running specifically with the goal in mind of securing federal infrastructure funds for Evanston’s infrastructure needs.” She said she has met with Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky and Senator Dick Durbin to discuss obtaining funds so some of Evanston’s needs would be funded.
Mr. Opdycke said, “On the front burner are budgeting issues and that’s going to dominate the horizon.” There are a lot of things “we would like” he said, “but we do not have the money.” He added, “Infrastructure funding is something we have to pursue.”
Ms. Lindwall said, “We have to be much more thoughtful about how we use resources.” She added that Evanston has a lot of talent and many people working to make Evanston better. She said she would “tap into those resources.” She also said the City needs to focus on working on problems that affect people who are struggling and who need help.
Mr. Dinges said, “The budget and taxes are important, but there are a lot of things we can do to grow our economy.” He also said he thought City Council could function more effectively and make better decisions. He said he wanted to connect with youth in the community and work with kids and families.
Promoting Economic Development?
Mr. Opdycke said, “Development is dead in Evanston, and it’s going to remain dead for a couple of years. We just finished a very robust period of development, and it’s going to give us a chance to catch our breath.”
Ms. Lindwall said Evanston should focus on bringing small offices into the City and provide economic incentives that would bring jobs to Evanston. She added the City should help create “career ladders” that would provide entry-level jobs for Evanston youth as well as jobs that would provide them with decent salaries.
Mr. Dinges said he is proposing a new model for economic development in Evanston which he said is outlined on his website. He said he would like to draw on Northwestern University, the Chamber of Commerce and other organizations to work together to assist in that process. He said he thought the City should work with Northwestern graduates who were thinking of starting a business and help them stay in Evanston.
Ald. Tisdahl said she was borrowing an idea from Jonathon Perman, executive director of the Chamber, that would attempt to bring together the resources of the Chamber, EvMark, Inventure, Northwestern and other economic development groups, and have them look beyond just developing condos, and build instead a real economic development plan for the City.
Eliminating the City’s Deficit?
Ms. Lindwall said the City should attempt to obtain as much money from the federal infrastructure plan as possible. She also said the City needed to have a strategic action agenda that would improve the City’s quality of life. “We need to do a better job of managing our resources,” she said.
Mr. Dinges said, “City Council needs to learn to say no” during the budgeting process. He also said the City needs to evaluate some of its policies to determine if they are counterproductive. As an example, he said, ruthless parking enforcement is punitive and may drive people from shopping in Evanston, which reduces sales tax revenues.
Ald. Tisdahl said she had many ideas of ways to chip away at the City’s budget deficits. As an example, she said, the City should explore whether it could renegotiate the contract under which it sells water to Skokie at 43 cents per 1,000 gallons. Chicago charges $2 per 1,000 gallons, she said.
Mr. Opdycke said he would not support a proposed five percent pay increase for police officers and firefighters. He said holding the line on pay increases would help reduce the projected deficits.