Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl delivering her farewell State of the City address.Photo By Evanston Photographic Studios

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Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, on March 10, delivered her final and farewell State of the City address. Noting that she had campaigned originally on increasing water sales to other communities and pursued that goal as Mayor, she said, “Well, put up the ‘Sold’ sign, and give [Public Works Director] Dave Stoneback a round of applause.” She also touched on the implementation of diversity and de-escalation training at the Evanston Police Department and stated her support of the Police Department and for its targeted stop-and-frisk policy, which has helped remove nearly 80 guns from the street: “Policing is difficult. We have talented officers putting themselves in harm’s way to protect us. We are continually trying to improve. … Any stops that are not narrowly targeting gangs should and will be questioned.”  

Mayor Tisdahl quoted from the letter District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon penned to all Evanston Township High School students, many of whom were traumatized after the election of Donald Trump as president last November. She reminded the audience that Evanston reaffirmed its status as a welcoming community, where the local Police Department will not act as agents for Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers except in criminal matters.

In support of the District 65 referendum on the April 4 ballot, Mayor Tisdahl said, “Expenses have outpaced revenues for some time. $10,200,000 in cuts has been made. The number of students is increasing. There are 1,420 more children in District 65 this year than there were 10 years ago. Why is this a difficult decision? It is because we all want to preserve diversity in Evanston. If we increase taxes, some people will no longer be able to afford to live here. If we do not increase taxes, we will shortchange our children. People do not move here for the garbage service or the snow removal, good though they are. They move here for the diversity and the schools.

The City is working hard on economic development, water sales, and job creation via partnerships with Oakton Community College, NU, and Evanston Hospital and building inclusionary housing to protect diversity. I think it is up to the adults, not the children, to protect diversity. We can, we should, and I believe we are. People want jobs that pay a living wage. Then they can pay their share of property taxes. The goal is not mediocre schools and continued poverty. The goal is a new form of gentrification where jobs move people from poverty into the middle class.”

Turning to partnerships with Northwestern University, she praised the Skilled Trades Program, which employs six men and women per year in a skilled trade’s apprenticeship program. … “To date, the program has a 100% employment rate, most being hired at Northwestern.” She said Joseph Flanagan, Chairman and CEO of Acquirent LLC and Chair of the Mayor’s Business Committee, is leading an effort with the City and NorthShore University HealthSystem staff to determine if the Northwestern University Skilled Trades Program Workforce model can be replicated at NorthShore. Jobs, she said, are what young people want and need to keep them off the street.

The industrial vacancy rate at the end of 2016 was the lowest in 10 years at 5%, according to CoStar Analytics, Mayor Tisdahl said, adding, “Throughout 2016, unemployment hovered around 5% or less and remained lower in Evanston than in Chicago or the state of Illinois.” She also said the City continues to promote affordable housing.

She said the federal Infrastructure Bill “is a mystery to me, but we cannot afford to ignore it and we are not. At the U.S. Mayors Conference, Vice President Pence told us it was going to be the biggest Federal Infrastructure Bill ever. The problem is, as best I can tell, no federal money is going into the infrastructure bill. It will all be private money. Selling parking did not work well for Chicago. There may be no grants, just a fire sale of city assets. If that’s what’s happening, we will not participate; at least I hope we will not. Short-term political gain comes at horrific long-term costs.”

The Mayor praised the Library for, among other things, its extensive outreach program. She noted that the City’s pension fund debt, now estimated at $415 million, is down from the 2008 estimate of $508 million. She said cities have to take responsibility for the environment, because few others will.

In closing, Mayor Tisdahl thanked former Mayor Lorraine Morton, the City Council, City staff, representatives in Congress and in the Illinois General Assembly, Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro, her family, and her secretary, Dar Francellno. “Each and every one of you here today has made the last eight years a wonderful experience. I have loved every minute of it. You put me in this position. I hope I have done you proud. Thank you.”