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Four candidates are on the ballot in the next election for alderman of the Fifth Ward: Bobby Burns, Tina Foster, Rebeca Mendoza, and Carolyn Murray.
The RoundTable invited each candidate to submit an essay of no more than 1,000 words in answer to specific questions. The deadline was Dec. 18. Only Ms. Murray and Ms. Mendoza chose to respond to our questions:
· How long have you lived in the ward?
· Take us on a tour of your ward that includes its top three assets and its top three challenges.
· Why do you want to be alderman? What particular expertise and/or experience would you bring to the position? What are your top priorities?
· What do you think the duties and responsibilities of an alderman are? How much time do you expect to spend on aldermanic business?
The RoundTable does not endorse candidates and does not publish letters to the editor or testimonials about any candidate.
I have lived in Evanston for more than thirty years and moved to the 5th ward in February of 2014.
When I moved to the Fifth Ward, I was looking for affordable, family-friendly housing for my daughter and me. I was able to find an affordable unit in a once single-family home converted into a three-unit rental. I love that we are down the street from Twiggs Park, Fleetwood-Jourdain Center, Family Focus, the Ecology Center, Northshore Canal, and a 30-minute walk to the lakefront. I try to take advantage of the lovely green spaces we have. On my block, there are only three other residential units. The block also includes live-work spaces, thriving businesses, and places of worship. I view all these things as rich neighborhood assets.
While there’s so much I appreciate about living here, I do also have some concerns. The first summer we spent here, I was taken aback by the sound of gunshots. It was the first time in my over 30 years here I experienced this. What was most unnerving was that the gunshots came from around the corner. Over the years, this has have been a regular occurrence. While I don’t know everything, I am very well informed about the historical harms to this ward and how systemic racism is the cause for increased violence in this particular ward. Concentrated gun violence is tied closely to poverty, inequality, and segregation. In addition to the obvious physical damage, gun violence also hurts mental health, academic attainment, economic prospects, social networks, and reputation.
In the time I’ve been here I’ve noticed several properties bought by investors from outside our Ward and City. While I welcome new neighbors, I can’t help but wonder if it’s only a matter of time before tenants like me are priced out of this neighborhood. I’ve been a renter for all my adult life in Evanston. Over the years, like many other families, I’ve looked into homeownership and found it challenging and frustrating. We pride ourselves on the diversity of our town, yet we haven’t done a very good job at helping that diversity to stay. Our community members deserve to live in safe, decent, affordable homes. Families are leaving as rents continue to rise and few affordable housing options are currently available. We need to make this a priority.
Having spent most of my life here, I am anchored in the Evanston community and focused on moving the City forward rather than having a specific agenda. I have worked with the City extensively as a volunteer on community engagement issues, the arts, safety, city/school relations, equity initiatives, Climate Action Resiliency Plan, and COVID 19 response. I understand the Council’s, and the City’s legal and financial responsibilities. Through my work as a Regional Grants Officer for Rotary International, I am responsible for project budgets ranging from $30,000 to $400,000. As a current member of the District 65 School Board, similar to the Council, I’m part of a team. I recognize the importance of respecting leadership as well as the staff that operates the school district. And finally, most importantly in this role, I invite feedback and strive to be a good listener for all community members.
My top priorities are
I. COVID 19 Recovery for underserved members of our community. BIPOC, low-income families, immigrants, and our elders are bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic because of existing systems, laws, and policies that have perpetually blocked their access to drivers of health and economic prosperity. Our local government must take action to ensure that equity is front and center in their policy responses to COVID-19 recovery.
II. Economic Development
I will work to actively elicit community involvement when working with our local government – to get the most out of it. I am interested in working to build a strong community through the development and support of businesses and by using local resources in a way that creates opportunities for decent and productive work for young and old. I have a specific interest to help our ward’s entrepreneurs and community leaders, particularly women. We know that women entrepreneurs choose community over competition and they prioritize hiring locally which keeps dollars within our community. I would also like to see us offer more opportunities for our returning citizens for those released from incarceration wanting to be fully and successfully reintegrated back into our community. As we work together to overcome this crisis, we will need to work towards increasing opportunities for community members who have been most impacted financially. This is a great opportunity to localize our economics with a community-centered approach that will foster the economic, social, ecological, and cultural well-being of our community.
III. Community Wellbeing
As I’ve mentioned, our ward is changing. We have many new neighbors. It will be interesting to see what the recent census results reveal. I’ve heard about pushback to my candidacy as a Latina in a historically Black community. While I’m newer to this ward, I’m very much aware of the historical harm inflicted on this community. I am committed to repairing harms as well as having honest conversations that will hopefully bring racial healing and transformation. I’m certain I can represent everyone.
I will work to promote healthy living and address health disparities which include out mental health. I am specifically interested in addressing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) in our community. I will advocate for us to fund well-informed social service providers who practice trauma-informed care.
I think the most important duties of an Alderman is to listen, to invite feedback, be a good communicator, and advocate on behalf of their constituents. I know from watching council over the years that the meeting hours are long and even more time is spent outside of meetings listening and engaging with the community. I accept this role taking a significant part of my daily life. I’ve had a challenging time getting comfortable in my skin and accepting the calling of a public servant in a sometimes hostile environment. However, I feel called to do this work. This is who I am. No matter what I do, where I go, I am a community builder, advocate, teacher, innovator, collaborator, social justice warrior. Regardless of the outcome, my work and commitment to building community will continue.
I am a lifelong Fifth Ward homeowner. I have lived in many parts of the world, but I always return to the Fifth Ward, because it is special. I believe that Evanston’s Fifth Ward is our City’s heart and soul.
One challenge is twofold: that people here don’t always feel safe, and that our residents want to be respected by the professional police force that is charged with maintaining safety. I have worked with the last three police chiefs to develop policies and activities that promote public safety and well-being. I believe that means using our resources wisely to provide the things that are needed so that residents can realize their full potential. In any particular community, when people have quality shelter, clean air and water, quality schools, a means to secure basic life resources, and mental and physical healthcare, fewer police are needed.
Assets of the ward include its housing stock and its racial diversity. Although housing affordability is a major issue in Evanston, the Fifth Ward continues to be the most affordable area in our City. There remain families in our ward that have lived in Evanston for three, four or five generations. That inventory continues to give some hope of rebuilding a fading Black middle class, so we should use that factor to build and craft solutions to our challenges in the future. In my discussions with Fifth Ward residents, people tell me that they are interested in housing for families and seniors. Residents also need the support from the city to preserve existing housing stock. It’s hard work, but I believe that we can find developers for this approach if we make it a City priority. I intend to do that. One of the 5th Ward’s biggest assets is that it provides Evanston with its most diverse culture, and spiritual passion. It’s not just a mix of languages but the racial makeup of our residents, as well as economic and educational backgrounds, that come together to create our ward’s uniqueness. The warmth and familiarity of the residents here solidifies our sense of community.
I want to be an alderperson because I love my community, and I have served people in this City for almost twenty years. I’m a Navy Veteran who has spent her whole career being accountable and transparent about my work. I truly believe that open, transparent advocacy is the only way to change your neighborhood. My advocacy for the Fifth Ward started when, at the request of former alderman Delores Holmes, I led monthly community ward meetings for over 10 years, hearing residents’ concerns and advocating for them as a liaison to City Council. This gave me valuable experience because I know the families that I live with, and I have provided resources to all when needed. I’m known as a responsive and reliable “go-to” presence, solving problems, raising awareness and providing direct assistance to residents in need for decades. I planned one of Evanston’s largest candlelight vigils, attended by over 1500 residents. For several years I organized and hosted the 5th Ward National Night Out events, some of the largest attended in the city. I worked closely with the past three Evanston Chiefs of Police, Evanston Mayor Lorraine Morton, and countless numbers of Evanston residents and organizations over the years to plan events, demand transparency, and make continual efforts to provide services for Fifth Ward friends, families and neighbors.
With the help of my kids, I began organizing the Gun Buy Back programs in the summer of 2012, with input from my 19-year-old son Justin and other community members. The first program, held on Dec. 8, brought in nearly 50 guns – and took place less than three weeks after my son Justin was fatally shot in Evanston. This tragic event reinforced my passion for ending gun violence in our community, and my leadership on the Gun Buy Back events has resulted in the removal of almost 300 guns from Evanston homes and streets. My activism has led to open communications with First Lady Michelle Obama, President Barack Obama and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, who invited me as her guest to the 2013 State of the Union Address, where my outrage about gun violence led me to rise up from my Capitol Building gallery seat, tearfully holding Justin’s photograph – a spontaneous moment of activism that reverberated all over the country in an iconic photo.
My top priorities are safety, affordable housing, and a stronger response to the devastation COVID-19 has brought our businesses, residents and the city’s entire infrastructure. Our local businesses are in dire need of support. Recognizing that our city will need some good fortune and help from the federal and state governments to address their long term fiscal needs, I intend to work with our local banks and financial services providers to secure targeted supports for local businesses.
First and foremost, our alderman must represent the Fifth Ward, while also looking objectively at the City as a whole and managing issues as they arise. I take seriously my responsibility for representing the needs of my ward, in both regular local government meetings and internal ward community meetings. A core responsibility is being accessible for Fifth Ward residents to communicate their ideas and grievances, including prompt, reliable response times for my residents for any Council inquiry or city matter. Time is the price that you pay for helping in my community, and I have done this willingly for the past two decades. A councilperson has to work tirelessly for the community, and I’m committed to spending whatever time that it takes to get the job done.