As political consultants, my colleagues and I are often asked by incumbent officeholders for advice on how thorny decisions might play out politically. Our jobs as consultants to Democrats all over the country is to advise them on what actions (or non-actions) might make them look good at re-election time or position them best to seek higher office. Our job is the politics of winning elections – we leave the job of governing to others.
Sometimes, the best governing decision turns out to be the best political decision. Often times however, the two goals diverge, leaving the officeholder to decide whether they should do what’s better for them politically or do what’s best for the constituents they serve.
If an Evanston alderman called me and asked me what the best political move is regarding hiring the next City Manager, I would tell them they should go through a lengthy national search now (despite months of needless delay already) with lots of public hearings, and then make their decision because that was the expectation given voters by the Evanston City Council. That’s the play that would make them look good politically.
But as nearly every Alderman made clear Tuesday night, Acting City Manager Erika Storlie has already proven herself to be the logical choice. She has led Evanston through arguably its most challenging 100 days and has shown now in crisis as she has over her 16 years of steady, smart service that she has the experience, local knowledge and leadership qualities to guide the City of Evanston forward in troubled times.
Why in the midst of a storm would Evanston make a change now, when the homegrown product is the surest choice in an uncertain time? Virtually every member of the Evanston City Council made the answer to this question very clear – Erika Storlie has earned their trust by passing the test under fire, not by making promises. She has earned the job with deeds, not flowery resumes or practiced answers to a job interview.
The question now is whether or not the City Council will go through the charade of a national search, which is good politics and theatre for City Council Zoom meetings but clearly not good governance. Ms. Storlie should be allowed to lead without the question marks that surround anyone who makes big decisions with the word “acting” before their title and has earned the right to an up or down vote.
The irony here is that political games are the reason why the City Council must now choose between what is good governance and what is politically expedient.
Because an alderman played politics with the choice of the national search firm by delaying the selection of a firm for months on end, a delay that was more about settling old political scores with the former City Manager than doing what was right for Evanston, the City Council is now faced with a tougher choice.
Aldermen must now choose between making the best governing decision and hiring Erika Storlie now, or going through the charade of a national search and a long public process that will at best end up with the choice of Ms. Storlie anyway or at worst potentially drive away the only proven candidate through a process dominated by political theatre.
As anyone who has gone to Council or watched it on TV knows, our beloved City rarely shows its best when there’s a crowd or elected officials on the dais playing to the cameras for months on end.
Do the right thing, aldermen. Create space for public comment at your ward meetings and at least two City Council meetings, but save us the phony national search. After Evanstonians from every corner of the City are heard, take an up or down vote on Ms. Storlie and make the best governing decision for the City’s present and future.
To many, hiring Erika Storlie as the full-fledged City Manager will give the us steady, proven leadership now when we need it the most. Save the months of delay and a less than serious national search for another time.
— Peter Giangreco