Now that the elections are over and the “new order” in Evanston, minus a permanent City Manager, is in place, perhaps it is time to speak of civic leadership. There may be a presumption that re-elected and newly elected officials know all they need to know on the subject (hopefully they do), but reminders seldom hurt.
None have to look too far to find a textbook example of good and effective leadership that Evanston has experienced in recent years. Former Mayor Lorraine Morton embodies many qualities Evanston’s new administration may want to preserve and emulate.
First, and most importantly, Mayor Morton loved Evanston to a degree that no one ever doubted that the City was part of her soul. Her long history of involvement with the community on many levels enabled her during her tenure to nurture the City’s unprecedented renewal and growth. Nothing defined her grace more than her love for the place and her office.
Second, and almost as importantly, Mayor Morton knew her role and the limits of her power. Any effective leader’s definition of self has to be more about others than about one’s ego. She seemed more a presence than a politician which gave her voice credibility and respect. Her person was her power and Evanston is better because of her.
Third, she knew when to get out of the way when her leadership was working, not in the sense of taking to the sidelines, but of moving to the middle of whatever needed to be done. True leaders are catalysts who know how to get things done with others’ strengths, empowering them many times without their knowing it.
The teacher in her served the community well. “Mrs. Morton” was principal of Haven when two of our three children went there. And that was who she was to them — Mrs. Morton. She had the gift of letting every student feel cared-for and known. Twenty years later my daughter Katie still remembers how upset the students were when Mrs. Morton left.
But Haven’s loss was eventually the City of Evanston’s gain. During her years of service to the City, Mayor Morton’s presence and positive outlook gave “politics” a good name. She will be missed – but not so much if her lessons have been learned.