Five aldermen left the City Council on May 4, taking with them more than 40 years of institutional wisdom and leaving a minority of veterans on the new Council.
Four of these – Cheryl Wollin, 1st Ward; Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward; Edmund Moran, Jr., 6th Ward; and Anjana Hansen, 9th Ward – left the Civic Center altogether. The fifth, Elizabeth Tisdahl, is Evanston’s new mayor.
The RoundTable asked the four departing aldermen some questions about their tenure: What they felt the Council had accomplished; what, if anything, they regretted; how they felt about the direction the City is heading; and what lies in store for them personally.
Cheryl Wollin says she endorses the small-group discussion process as a way of addressing and resolving community issues. She counts the Lakefront Plan, the Downtown Plan, several public art projects and the resolution of quality-of-life and safety issues among the achievements during her time as alderman on the 77th City Council. “It was clear that people wanted passive recreation [on the lakefront],” Ms. Wollin said. In addition, she said, the Lakefront Plan addressed a lot of lighting and safety issues.
“The Downtown Plan process was very good. I went to all of the discussions,” Ms. Wollin told the RoundTable. “It was a long process but I don’t know that it could have been shortened in any way. I don’t think we’d done anything that extensive before. In the end, we had a document of 120 pages and only two issues without consensus.”
Ms. Wollin says she is also “very pleased” with the resolution committee that addresses problems neighbors have from time to time with partying Northwestern University students. “[Fifth Ward] Alderman [Delores] Holmes and I worked with Mary Dessler of Northwestern. … We would bring kids in and say ‘How are you going to keep this from happening again?’”
Her biggest regret, she says, is the Council’s refusal to approve Darrow Corners, the low-income housing development proposed for the corner of Church Street and Darrow Avenue. “I’m still angry about Darrow Corners,” she says, “but we didn’t have the votes.”
Another failed measure was a referendum for affordable housing. “We have some affordable housing problems, and with the economy now, we have affordable units that we can’t fill.”
Even with her personal disappointments, Ms. Wollin says she is optimistic about the direction the City is heading. “We’re under the same budget constraint, and it could be even harder next year [to balance the budget]. I think we have a great City – I’m optimistic about the future. We have the lakefront, a dynamic community with great demographics and diversity. We need to market it. We need to attract business. And we need a City Manager who is fully engaged.”
Although Ms. Wollin says she does not know what part she will play in public life here, Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, pointed out in her farewell to Ms. Wollin, “Last time you left you became president of the Library board.” In that capacity, Ms. Wollin helped oversee the construction of the Main Library.”
Having seen an 18-alderman Council as well as the present 9-alderman Council, Ms. Wollin said each had its advantage. “Obviously it’s easier to work with nine – but I did appreciate having a partner, so we could discuss things. Of the Council she just left, Ms. Wollin said it was “one of the most congenial Councils we have had. We were all able to work together.”
Leaving after only one term on City Council, Anjana Hansen, who served as alderman of the 9th Ward, says she plans to remain active in Evanston. As an alderman, she focused on quality of life and sustainability, as well as economic growth.
“Quality of life was a big thing for me. I tried to keep that in perspective with my votes,” Ms. Hansen told the RoundTable. “Early on I sponsored the loud-music ordinance.”
She says she is also pleased with the way the Council embraced sustainability measures. “I’m happy about the Clean Air Act and the Climate Action Plan,” Ms. Hansen said, “and the green building ordinance was approved by the Human Services Committee.” She also points to some of the sustainability measures taken by City staff, such as “paperless” Council and committee meetings, at which aldermen refer to the information downloaded on their laptops.
Looking back at her four years in office, Ms. Hansen says she has “no regrets” but adds, “I do wish there had been some final resolution about the Civic Center.”
Looking forward, Ms. Hansen says she plans to stay involved in the community. “I’ll stay involved in working on the Robert Crown Center, and I’d like to stay on the Community Development Block Grant Committee.” In addition, she would like to remain on the subcommittee that is working with District 202 for a joint Evanston Township High School/City of Evanston field house.
“This is not my last stop for Evanston,” Ms. Hansen told the RoundTable. “People will still see me around.”
(Mr. Bernstein was not available for an interview.)
Steve Bernstein’s 12 years as alderman of the Fourth Ward coincided with the City’s growth spurt. Shaking off the image of a sleepy downtown, Evanston became known as an urban suburb – hip, bustling and attractive to families, singles and seniors. The housing market boomed – condos sprang up in places previously unconsidered.
Ald. Bernstein’s trademark booming voice filled Council Chambers in support of Church Street Plaza and Sherman Plaza, adding retail, residential and rebuilt City parking garages to a stale and somewhat vacant area of downtown. He supported the efforts of his colleague Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, to keep development along Chicago Avenue lower, less dense and more in character with the neighborhood.
Despite his general support for development, Ald. Bernstein did not support the Evanston Downtown Plan, professing a belief in Council’s ability to study each new development on a case-by-case basis rather than making Council to apply an overarching template for development to each decision.
“We do good work up here,” he said at one Council meeting, describing several successful Council development decisions. He also said, “[The position of alderman is] not a job, it’s a calling.”
Highlighting his support for individual treatment for each development, Ald. Bernstein voted against the residential tower at 708 Church St. but led the way to upsizing the traditional business zone – to allow 8 to 10 stories – on Davis Street just west of the tracks.
Mr. Bernstein chaired the Civic Center Committee, which for years sought a place to which City headquarters might be relocated. When the committee voted last year to recommend funds in this year’s budget to repair the roof, he opposed the measure. He said he thought any money put into repairing the building would be wasted and called it a “money pit.”
Throughout his tenure, Mr. Bernstein expressed his affection for the City of Evanston. Often a the Call of the Wards – traditionally the last item on the City Council agenda – he would recount the pleasure of walking home from downtown with his family, seeing the excitement and beauty of Evanston. At his last Council meeting, he said enthusiastically, “There cannot be a better community in the world than Evanston, Illinois.”
Although he was not available for an interview, he said to the RoundTable shortly before he retired, “I want to leave Council as the same person I was when I came.” He has stated a number of times that retirement will allow him to spend more time with his family, including two newborn grandchildren.
Edmund B. Moran, Jr.
Edmund Moran left City Council having served for 18 years as alderman from the SixthWard. He had the longest tenure of anyone currently on Council, and one of the longest in Evanston’s history. Only Mayor Morton, with nine years on Council, followed by 16 years as Mayor, served longer as an elected official.
During his tenure, Mr. Moran feels most proud of his role in “getting help for people who needed help, making life easier [for citizens].”
Specifically, he points to a Latino outreach position he was able to secure for Evanston Township High School some 10 or 15 years ago; a senior citizens handyman program he got through Council 16 years ago with the help of then-Second Ward Alderman Dennis Drummer.
Referring to a controversial resolution proposed nearly a year ago that expressed support for all immigrants in Evanston, he says, “I felt good about the immigrant resolution.”
Despite his long tenure, Mr. Moran points to a couple of items that he regrets not getting passed. “Years ago I convened a working group on early childhood education. It all crashed. But I worked on it pretty hard for a long time.”
He says he was able to find funding for the project, identify the area of greatest need with the help of a study of the area, and to obtain help from the YMCA to make it a reality.
Nevertheless, it fell through at Council, and again when the YMCA attempted to follow through on its own. Mr. Moran says he sees early childhood education as a continuing need in Evanston.
Another project Mr. Moran says he wishes would have at least begun on his watch was a marina proposed just off Sheridan Road across from Calvary Cemetery just north of the Chicago border.
But the project “never got off the ground,” he says. The Army Corp of Engineers presented a feasibility study, but it was unattractive, Mr. Moran says. He took it to an architect, who created a beautiful plan, with underground parking and wonderful architecture. But Evanston did not want a marina at the time.
“Being engaged with the City working on projects,” says Mr. Moran when asked what he will miss most about being on the Council. “The interactive process of council,” the “back and forth,” he says, concluding, “It’s pretty fun.”
Ald. Moran says he chose to retire after 18 years because, “I had the sense that I had been at it long enough. I don’t think it’s really healthy to have people [on City Council] forever.” Mr. Moran says he felt a generational shift. It was time for the old guard to move out and let the new guard in.
As for what is next for retired Alderman Moran, he says, “I’m not sure. I’ve got to pay more attention to my law practice. I want to write, too. I don’t get a chance to write very often. Expository writing,” he explains.
Evanstonians will surely look forward to reading what he writes, but the City will miss Alderman Moran’s thoughtful, experienced leadership.