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Eighth Ward Alderman Ann Rainey issued an apology on Feb. 9 for a remark she made during a recent candidates forum, describing Devon Reid, one of four candidates challenging her for the seat, as “a scary person.”

The comment triggered strong criticism from some community members, including Evanston’s three mayoral candidates, as being racially insensitive.

Ald. Rainey’s remark came near the close of a Feb. 2 forum held by the League of Women Voters of Evanston with candidates of the Eighth Ward.

Summing up her candidacy at the forum, Ald. Rainey had stressed her own steadfast loyalty to serve the ward — “unlike some people who run for a six-year term,” referring to candidate Matthew Mitchell, possibly cutting short his term on the Ridgeville Park District board if elected — “and unlike the Clerk, who is a very scary person,” referring to Mr. Reid, who is not seeking another term as Clerk to run for alderman.

A number of residents, some who have been aligned with the Clerk on other issues, blasted the alderman for the remark on social media and then in citizen comment at the City Council meeting Feb. 7, maintaining the remark was racially-tinged.

“City Council of Evanston,” said resident Jacquelyn Lowe, “your constituents need you to address the racist and dangerous speech of your members, and the people who use the speech. Silence from the City Council in regards to this will be judged as complicity, and the stamp of approval.”

Rainey: “A Poor Choice of Words”

In a statement issued after the Council meeting, Ald. Rainey expressed regret for her remark.

“I have known and worked with Devon Reid the past four years. My recent comment about him was inappropriate and for that I apologize. While I feel Clerk Reid is not ready to effectively represent the residents of Evanston’s Eighth Ward, in no way do I find him personally ‘scary’ and I have apologized to Clerk Reid for my poor choice of words,” she said.

“In addition, I want to apologize to any one that I have offended.  I understand that words matter and I will be more thoughtful.”

Ald. Rainey, who was once let go from an early job because she wanted to join protesters in their historic march in Selma, Ala. declined to go beyond her statement, except to say the comments at the meeting were “hugely hurtful.”

Evanston’s three mayoral candidates also weighed in on the issue, issuing statements.

Candidates Sebastian Nalls and Lori Keenan issued a joint statement:

“Ann Rainey’s behavior in the Women League of Voters’ forum was unfitting of an elected official and unacceptable in our community. In an effort to show unity and solidarity for Devon Reid and the minoritized communities of Evanston, we have come together to censure her actions as racially insensitive,” they said.

“We must condemn her words to set a precedent that these actions are intolerable.”

Daniel Biss, the third candidate for mayor, issued his own statement: “The comments made by Alderman Rainey were harmful and have no place in our community. The racist lie that Black men are scary has done immeasurable harm in our country and reinforcing that lie is dangerous and damaging. We must continue to call out systemic racism and hold ourselves and one another accountable – especially as candidates and elected leaders.”

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.