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With the departure of Lionel Jean-Baptiste to serve as a judge in the ninth judicial subcircuit, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl will appoint a new Second Ward alderman within the next month. Since less than 28 months remain before the next election, the City Code, following State law, mandates appointment rather than an election.
Mayor Tisdahl convened a meeting on Feb. 22 at Evanston Township High School to discuss with Second Ward residents the qualities of their new alderman. She said that because the Second Ward is, as is the Fifth Ward, designated by City Council as a “super majority minority ward,” it should be represented by a “minority” alderman. She indicated that she would appoint an African American as the new alderman.
“I’m looking for someone with a history of community involvement, who is eager to serve and who will maintain that enthusiasm and commitment,” said the Mayor. She acknowledged the heterogeneity of the Second Ward: “The Second Ward is a very complex ward. It’s got a little bit of everything in it.”
One of the City’s largest wards, the Second Ward has irregular boundaries on each side, stretching from the North Shore Channel (the canal) on the west to Oak Avenue on the east. Its southern boundary is Washington Street, and its northernmost tip is Emerson Street.
While some residents had specific issues – some Citywide, others in the ward alone – the most common response was that they wanted a “responsive” alderman. Most people at the meeting said they felt Mr. Jean-Baptiste had been responsive to their concerns.
The West Side Block Club, for example, regularly invited Mr. Jean-Baptiste to its meetings and sought his help with neighborhood issues there. On the east side of the ward, residents are hoping for resolution of the problem of a gaping hole in the Sienna development, bounded by Clark and Church streets and Oak and Ridge avenues, from even before developer Thomas Roszak declared bankruptcy.
Charlie Booker said he wanted “transparency.” Asked by the Mayor what he meant, he said, “Transparency means that we get an idea of what’s going on before a [City Council] meeting, and we have a meeting [afterward] for the alderman to tell why he voted the way he did.”
A Citywide concern, said Hugh Bartling, is the proposal to change the green building ordinance. He said he hoped the new alderman would understand the significance of the ordinance, the City’s Climate Action Plan, and other Citywide issues. Only one person, who identified himself as “living in the southern part of the ward,” said he “felt like we have not been well represented.”
Sara Schastok said, “Some of these issues we have are because these wards are purely geographic. We could benefit from people who know about City issues.” Mayor Tisdahl said that [electing at-large rather than ward-specific aldermen, as School Board members are elected] was a topic for discussion at another time.
Dickelle Fonda urged the Mayor to take several types of diversity into consideration: race, age and gender. “Consider the balance of the Council. … Without Mr. Jean-Baptiste, the Council is going to have two men (Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, and Don Wilson, 4th Ward) – and only one African American (Delores Holmes, 5th Ward) alderman.” She also said she would like to see “a little more youth on the Council.”
The Mayor said three persons had contacted her about becoming Second Ward alderman and that she had spoken to each of them and planned to interview them again. She will introduce her choice at the March 14 City Council meeting, at which time, she said, the Council would approve her choice. She said she would ensure, through calls to aldermen, that they would agree with her decision.
Reportedly two of the candidates are African American, and the third one is white. Mr. Booker said he would present the Mayor with a fourth name after the meeting. While there is speculation about the candidates and the new alderman, no names have been publicly released.