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In politics these days, an elected executive is often judged on his or her performance during the first 100 days after inauguration. As Evanston passes the 100th day in Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl’s term as mayor of Evanston, it is time to reflect upon what the City and the Mayor have accomplished since she took office.
yardstick goes back to the Napoleonic Wars, based upon the approximate 100-day span between Napoleon’s return from exile on Elba and his defeat at Waterloo. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in 1933, highlighted the 100-day benchmark in a speech to the American public, and the press and political pundits have seized upon the somewhat artificial measure ever since.
Mayor Tisdahl officially took office when she was sworn in on May 11. Using inauguration as the true beginning of her term, her first 100 days in office ended Aug. 19. Her first full City Council meeting actually took place on May 27, and using that date, 100 days extends through Sept. 4. By either measure, the 100-day benchmark applies.
New City Manager
Ms. Tisdahl candidly states what she perceives as the City’s biggest accomplishment on her watch. “The most important thing we’ve done is hire a new City Manager,” she said, meeting with the RoundTable in her office to discuss her first 100 days. She says she views the upcoming budget season, which began last month, as the true test of her administration as well as that of the new City Council. But the hiring of new City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz stands out, in her mind, as the single most important accomplishment of the City’s elected government in 2009.
Ms. Tisdahl swept into office on the wings of a huge political mandate having captured nearly 62 percent of the vote in a four-way race. According to the Cook County election results website, she received 6,430 of 10,387 votes cast despite a spirited, and at times bruising, campaign in which all four candidates ran solid, effective and serious campaigns.
During multiple debates held over a four- or five-month period, Ms. Tisdahl made numerous campaign promises and statements. This article will discuss how she has progressed in meeting the goals set for herself during the campaign season.
The City’s Budget
Every candidate discussed the budget with varying degrees of alarm given the recession and its resultant plummeting tax revenues and stalled development.
During the campaign, Ms. Tisdahl spoke about at least four different ways of addressing the budget crisis: budget cuts, federal or state grants, water sales in conjunction with a renegotiation of the City’s water contract with Skokie, and an increase in the contribution to the City from Northwestern University.
“We are looking at budget cuts that are even starker than I thought they might be, but we can’t wait,” Ms. Tisdahl said. Given the severity of the budget issues this year, talks of budget cuts are going to “kick into full gear much earlier” than in prior years, she said. Grappling with the budget, and where to make cuts, is coming, but not within the first 100 days.
It is too soon to know whether Evanston will receive substantial federal stimulus funds. Several pending grant applications could result in huge amounts of federal, state or county money coming to the community. Regardless, though, Ms. Tisdahl expressed some disappointment that the City has not received more to date. “[President Obama] asked for shovel ready and we have all our shovels ready,” she said. “But it’s taking longer than we’d anticipated. The money is stuck at the state level.” Evanston is not unique. Ms. Tisdahl says that, in talking with mayors from around the country, “Everyone’s worried about cities getting funds from their state governments.”
The City has received a little money for water system upgrades, she noted, but was recently turned down for police money “that we thought we’d get.” On the whole, Ms. Tisdahl believes that the “jury is still out” regarding stimulus money. She adds, “The staff has done a terrific job of applying for every dollar available,” and she wants the City to hire a federal and state lobbyist to help Evanston get as much money as possible.
As for the sale of water to other communities, Ms. Tisdahl admits that she has “not made much headway.” She explained, “We can sell additional water, but that requires that we expand facilities.” The City needs to repair existing facilities first, and then expand to allow for greater water sales.
Ms. Tisdahl serves on the water committee of the National Council of Mayors, and during a recent meeting in Providence, mayors from across the country shared a common concern. The federal stimulus bill did not include enough money for water system upgrades, she said. Evanston is “not unique in saying we need money for water.” Many cities are in the same situation as an aging infrastructure system across the country requires repair, upgrade, or replacement. If there is a second stimulus package, notes Ms. Tisdahl, then she expects a great deal more money for water system upgrades.
Ms. Tisdahl also said that efforts to renegotiate the water contract with Skokie have not gotten off the ground. Renegotiation will require a “water attorney,” and the City is currently searching for a new City Attorney. The reason for the delay: The City Manager is the official who hires the new City Attorney.
“All candidates [for City Manager] were quite clear: They would feel better making the decision than not.” Once the new City Attorney is in place, Ms. Tisdahl expects a renegotiation of the current contract with Skokie to be on the list of things to be addressed.
Relations with Northwestern
The new president of Northwestern University, Morton O. Schapiro, started work effectively Sept. 1, but his official inauguration will not take place until Oct. 9, according to Northwestern’s website. As a result, not much has happened during the Mayor’s first 100 days to improve the City’s relations with Northwestern.
“I haven’t met President Schapiro, but I invited him to ride with me at the 4th of July parade,” she said. (He was not available.) “I still plan to bake cookies and take them to his house,” she added.
Promoting the City
As far as promoting the City goes, Ms. Tisdahl pointed to her appearance on “Chicagoing” with Bill Campbell, discussing the Ethnic Arts Festival and a recent Chicago Tribune editorial in favor of wildflowers. “Whenever I’ve had a chance I’ve said wonderful things about Evanston – because I believe every word,” she said.
Balance and a New Clinic
Mayor Tisdahl says that she has been able to strike a balance between her mayoral duties and her professional and family life. The balance is “much better these days. In the beginning, it was like falling off a cliff,” she said. Initially, she was putting in 60-hour work-weeks, but has returned to much more normal work-weeks of late. “I am happy to report that I am not that essential,” she said with a wry grin. “And I am very happy about it. I have to see my grandchildren,” she added.
During the campaign, Ms. Tisdahl promised to do everything she could to bring a new women’s health clinic to Evanston, and she believes that her goal is close to being realized. She has announced negotiations are in process to bring a new women’s clinic to Evanston. Working with the Heartland Alliance and the office of Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, Ms. Tisdahl said she thinks a formal announcement is close.
Opinions of the Other Mayoral Candidates
Four candidates ran for Mayor of Evanston in April’s election. Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl won the election handily and has now been in office for about 100 days. Looking back now, with some distance, the RoundTable asked the three unsuccessful candidates what they thought of the campaign, what they thought of Mayor Tisdahl’s first 100 days in office, and what are they doing now.
“”I had a wonderful time running for mayor,”” said Stuart Opdyke, “”and I would have enjoyed being mayor. But it was not to be.”” He told the RoundTable that he had no regrets and that he learned a lot while having a lot of fun. He feels, he said, that the campaign itself was aboveboard on the parts of all candidates, and never became “”gratuitously negative.”” He adds: “”I think my wife is glad I did not prevail”” because of the time and work the job would have required.
After the election, Mr. Opdyke returned to his law practice. He continues to serve as the chair of the City’s Plan Commission, and has stated that at this time he has no plans to seek elected office.
“”I have no opinion as to how [Mayor Tisdahl] is doing,”” he stated candidly. “”I have not heard any negative things. I know that she’s visible; I know she works hard; and I know she answers her own phone. I know she’s doing all the things she’s supposed to do.””
He described the period after the hiring of the new City Manager and the seating of the new Council as a “”shakedown cruise,”” saying that after the dust settles we will know how it is working.
“”The campaign is over, and I’m glad it’s over,”” said Barnaby Dinges. “”I think people had enough information to make a decision, and two-thirds voted for [Mayor Tisdahl].”” As for the campaign, “”it was more exhausting than I thought it would be, both the campaign and the after-effects,”” he said, agreeing that it was both physically and emotionally exhausting. He feels he added to the debate, but laments not being able to get at least 25 percent of the vote (Mr. Dinges finished with 12.48 percent of votes cast; Mayor Tisdahl captured 61.9 percent). The disappointment still shows on his face as he ticks off things that he believes he could or should have done differently.
Since Election Day, Mr. Dinges has devoted more time to his public relations and advocacy business, specifically his wind-farm clients. “”I’m working on a new wind-farm in Brown County, Wis.,”” he explains. He maintains an active blog, though it is less active and less City-focused than before. He is preparing for a class he is teaching at Columbia that begins soon.
Mayor Tisdahl’s tenure has gone as expected, Mr. Dinges said. “”People voted for the status quo. Keep things the same. They got that.”” He cites several campaign promises: The water contract renegotiation idea “”didn’t hold water”” he said; he is “”anxiously eyeing”” Northwestern University relations; and he wonders whether federal stimulus money has made a difference.
“”Hopefully, we’re going to see some progress,”” he said. “”It seems to me the City is on autopilot. I do not mean that in a pejorative way.””
“”I really enjoyed the campaign. It was a learning experience,”” said Jeanne Lindwall. “”I believe that I raised issues that would not have been raised otherwise.”” She does not have any regrets about the campaign, saying that she gave it her best shot.
Ms. Lindwall has been busy as an urban planner since Election Day. “”At the moment, I am playing to my natural strength as a planner, helping communities in the region to be the best they can be.”” She has seen Mayor Tisdahl in this context, at a recent Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) meeting. “”I was happy to see the Mayor there. That’s where decisions are made regarding allocation of funding as well,”” she explained.
As for Mayor Tisdahl’s tenure, Ms. Lindwall says that she “”has been keeping up, but really letting the Mayor and City Council settle into their jobs. The new City Manager has got to get settled in as well.””