The RoundTable invited the aldermanic candidates – Patricia Connolly, Diane Goldring, Jonathan Nieuwsma, Sari Kadison-Shapiro, and incumbent Donald Wilson – to answer four questions about their candidacy. Mr. Nieuwsma, Ms. Goldring, and Alderman Wilson responded. The RoundTable will post the other responses as they are received.
Length of Ward Residency: I have lived for nine years in the Fourth Ward and 37 years in Evanston.
Tour of the Fourth Ward: The Fourth Ward’s primary asset is its residents. I am constantly amazed at and humbled by the breadth and depth of their knowledge and experience. I have had conversations with housing experts, artists, attorneys, educators, successful entrepreneurs, students and restaurant and retail workers. Second, the Fourth Ward is a uniquely diverse community of households, housing types and businesses. It contains single-family homes, small multi-family residences, large apartment and condominium buildings and the YMCA, which is one of the city’s leading providers of affordable housing. Several discrete business districts are in the Fourth Ward, including both the Main and Dempster Street corridors and a slice of downtown Evanston. Finally, its location, in the heart of Evanston and adjacent to both the el and the Metra, makes the Fourth Ward an extremely vibrant and convenient place to live.
The most significant challenge in the Fourth Ward is the same as the most significant challenge city-wide: ensuring residents are able to remain in their homes and obtain basic necessities during and after the current pandemic. Several Fourth Ward residents told me that they are barely hanging on, struggling to pay both housing and health care expenses. Second, economic instability has led to the closure of many Fourth Ward restaurants and businesses, leaving empty storefronts in all areas of the ward, including on Church, Davis, Dempster and Main. Third, our approach to development has been ad hoc, leading to drastically insufficient affordable housing and a patchwork of new buildings that required significant zoning variances for little benefit in return. We must create a workable and consistent plan for the future.
Why She’s Running and What She Brings: I want to be alderperson because the only way to bring about lasting change is through policy, which is created by city council. I grew up in Evanston and strongly believe that we can lead on issues that are important to the entire nation – racial and economic justice, climate change and government transparency and accountability, to name a few – and it has been painful for me to watch as we move either too slowly or in the wrong direction. Rather than sit on the sidelines I decided to act and run for public office.
My professional experience, community leadership, education and personal history have prepared me extraordinarily well to be Evanston’s Fourth Ward alderman. I spent my entire professional life – over 30 years – listening to clients’ needs and solving complex business challenges. I have created, led and volunteered in organizations that serve seniors, youth, children with special needs and those experiencing homelessness. I attended Oakton, Chute and Evanston Township High School and returned to Evanston after college to earn my MBA at Northwestern. Further, as a single mother with sole custody of my son, I understand needing to lean on the community for help.
Priorities: My priorities as alderperson will be addressing the urgent needs of our residents and businesses in the wake of the COVID pandemic, particularly affordable housing and economic security; ensuring a real and bold commitment to racial equity, including reimagining the concept of public safety; and implementing our Climate Action and Resilience Plan. In my discussions with residents, affordable housing is at the top of nearly every list as the most pressing concern. Housing was serious problem before the pandemic, but now we are in crisis. Pre-pandemic, 40% of Evanston residents were housing cost burdened, which means that they spend over 30% of their income on housing. The situation has certainly worsened as unemployment, a circumstance I have personally experienced, has skyrocketed.
In the short term, we need to continue to move formerly unhoused residents into permanent housing and provide rental and mortgage assistance to those who may have lost their jobs. In the middle and longer term, we must create an affordable housing plan and re-evaluate our inclusionary housing ordinance using hard data.
Similarly, many small retailers were struggling prior to the pandemic. We need to collaborate with existing organizations such as the Main Dempster Mile and Downtown Evanston that are providing information to our business owners about access to capital, reopening guidelines and selling online. The city should continue to waive fees and fines and make it easier for businesses to expand operations outdoors come spring.
In the past, our City has voiced a commitment to equity, but often falls short in acting on our commitment. I will move beyond talking to actually applying racial equity tools to our policy decisions. There is no need to recreate the wheel. We can look to other cities such as Seattle WA and St. Paul MN as models and modify their racial equity tools to fit Evanston’s specific circumstances.
I will take steps to implement Evanston’s ambitious Climate Action and Resilience Plan. CARP details specific implementation actions that the city largely has failed to follow. Without addressing climate change, eventually nothing else will matter.
What She Would Do As Alderperson: First and foremost, an alderperson’s job is to advocate for her constituents. She needs to listen to residents and keep them informed about city and ward issues. Not only the global issues like equity, housing, economic development and climate change, but the daily life concerns such as landlord-tenant disputes, garbage collection and street lighting. I will connect with my constituents by holding regular monthly ward meetings and sending a newsletter, as well as holding office hours when residents can schedule one on one calls or meetings.
As I reach out to residents, I am becoming more and more excited about serving as the Fourth Ward alderperson.