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As February came to a close, the tenure of Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, who had represented the Second Ward since April 2001, likewise ended. Ald. Jean-Baptiste announced his resignation barely three weeks ago, after being appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court to Circuit Judge.
During his tenure, Ald. Jean-Baptiste was a passionate advocate for Evanston’s youth. At the Feb. 14 City Council meeting, he said, “Let’s not put limitations on [our youth]. Sometimes when they are characterized as ‘disadvantaged’ or ‘at risk’ [it appears to characterize] their mental state. And that can be a prophecy about them [because they] are often treated with lower expectations. Poverty doesn’t mean that you are less than the next individual. But if society treats you that way and you behave in that way, you may turn out to be a lesser individual in terms of your contribution to society.”
Two weeks later, City staff and the City Council sent Ald. Jean-Baptiste from the Council Chambers to his new judicial post with well-wishes, gifts, hugs and praise.
Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl began the sendoff saying, “I’m going to try to do this without crying.” Each alderman took a moment to talk about serving with Alderman Jean-Baptiste. Their comments are summarized below:
Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward: “Sometimes we argued. But mostly we chuckled. …” She praised his eloquence, then said, “I have never seen Lionel smile as much as in the last two weeks.”
Don Wilson, 4th Ward: After thanking Ald. Jean-Baptiste for his guidance and commitment to the community, Ald. Wilson, a practicing lawyer, said, “I look forward to seeing you in the Daley Center [the Cook County Civil Courthouse building] soon.”
Delores Holmes, 5th Ward: “The Good Book says, ‘To everything there is a season.’ I truly believe this is your season. … Keep that swagger about you. … Everything for you has not been a crystal stair but still you rise.”
Mark Tendam, 6th Ward: “I am proud to live in the same community as you.” He said the qualities of a good judge shined through on Council.
Jane Grover, 7th Ward: “I appreciate your supreme civility, your diplomatic touch.” She cited particularly Ald. Jean-Baptiste’s perspective on youth, crime and job creation and his passionate advocacy for “residents who are largely invisible.”
Ann Rainey, 8th Ward: Referencing Ald. Holmes’ mention of the Bible, Ald. Rainey said in jest, “I think you’re going to a better place.” She praised Ald. Jean-Baptiste’s involvement with his family.
Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward: Ald. Burrus said that she rarely agreed with Ald. Jean-Baptiste, but that he made her do her homework and think, ” Where’s Lionel going to come from on this one?” She also praised his focus on youth.
Judy Fiske, 1st Ward: “I knew you from down there for 10 years,” she said, referencing her time as a community activist before her election in 2009. She learned a lot from him, she said.
Gifts came from City staff, presented by Parks, Recreation and Community Services director Doug Gaynor and Public Works director Suzette Robinson, who praised Ald. Jean-Baptise as an “advocate for the employees.” Tote bags, fire department workout garb, shirts, two plaques including a mayoral proclamation, and a framed poem from City Clerk Rodney Greene all went home with Ald. Jean-Baptiste.
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz seemed to sum up the feeling in Council chambers, saying, “You made all of us do our job better.”
“This has been my family. It really has,” said Ald. Jean-Baptiste. He thanked his constituents and his family, including his wife of 35 years, Lenore. And then the public meeting ended and the transition to judge continued.
“It is not easy. It is hard work,” said Ald. Jean-Baptiste of the transition when asked during a Feb. 26 interview. He said he stayed at his law office past 2 a.m. Friday night preparing for the move.
But he says he is elated and honored by the move. A new chapter begins next Tuesday, just after the most recent chapter came to a close.