The RoundTable recently interviewed the four candidates for mayor, asking them each the same questions: How long have you lived in Evanston? What is your experience in City government? How do you envision the role of mayor? Why are you running for mayor? Why should you win? How would you address the City’s financial crunch? How would you deal with Northwestern University? What is your favorite part of Evanston?
Stuart Opdycke has lived his whole life in Evanston. “I am a local, you might say – a townie,” he says.
His experience in local government begins with his service on the District 202 School Board (Evanston Township High School) from 1986 to 1994. His service on the Plan Commission, where he has been a member for three-and-a-half years and is presently its chair, is his first experience in municipal government.
Mr. Opdycke says he sees the function of the mayor “to weigh in on matters of importance, to express opinions, to articulate points of view – in short, to lead.”
He says he will “look over the shoulder” of the City Manager, but not micromanage. He says he would bring to the office of mayor no agenda or public policy initiatives that must be undertaken immediately. “With four new aldermen, a new mayor, a new City Manager and a new public works director, before you can weigh in on policy changes, you have to let the dust settle. You have to let the new people get their bearings, including the mayor,” he says.
Mr. Opdycke says he is running because “This town has given me a great deal. I have taken a lot from this town. I’m now at the point in my life that I can give back to this community that I really love. I raised my family here; all my kids went to school here. I owe this community a great debt.”
He says he knows the town “as well as anybody – neighborhoods, what’s important to people in this town, the culture in this town, and I think it would be a lot of fun to be mayor. And I would be honored. I know I would give it my all.”
Acknowledging his competitors, Mr. Opdycke says, “We have four good candidates, but I believe my credentials are worth considering. The fact that I have lived here my entire life counts for something. It gives me a framework for understanding what is important.
“If I could come back to this town 30 years from now I would find a town where the schools are very good, like they are today, streets clean, beaches, a beautiful town with intelligent, active citizens willing to roll up their sleeves and tackle problems.
“A town that looks after those less advantaged, appreciates the arts. This vision takes work and attention to detail and a love and understanding of the community. I know I have the credentials. Despite changes to the community, the City must remain a good place to raise a family.”
Mr. Opdycke adds, “This is really my reason [for running for mayor: I get to lead the parade.”
Regarding the financial crunch at the City, Mr. Opdycke says he believes pay raises of 5 percent for City employees is “out of the question today, and probably next year. … Taxi coupons, community wellness, dental, conflict resolution, housing rehab – these are all great programs but we can’t afford them right now. It’s going to be hard. But we can’t lay everything on the backs of the property owners.” In this economy, he says “Everything is on the table. Interested parties should be given a chance to justify a program’s existence,” with the understanding the cut programs and deferred pay raises can re restored, although likely not over the next couple of years.
Mr. Opdycke says, if elected, he would give up his full-time job, at least initially. “I would need to devote 100 percent of my time to being mayor for at least one year, maybe two,” he says.
Northwestern University, says Mr. Opdycke, is a “world-class institution, without question. We wouldn’t be the same community without them, and they wouldn’t be the same institution without us.” He says he would start a conversation, with the new president to build trust and a basis for going forward. “It would be a slow process,” he says, “but my approach would start with a one-on-one relationship.”
Bill’s hamburgers on Asbury Avenue is Mr. Opdycke’s favorite spot. In addition, he says, “I go down to the lake about every day. Quieting. Peaceful. Opens up the brain box a little bit and lets you wonder and marvel at nature and the wonders of this great country.”