The RoundTable invited the First Ward aldermanic candidates, Judy Fiske and Clare Kelly, to offer a tour of the First Ward that included its top three assets and top three challenges before the April 6 general election.

Alderman Judy Fiske’s First Ward

Please allow me to take a slightly different approach by noting that each of the First Ward’s top assets comes with its own set of challenges.

So, for example, the lakefront is indisputably the ward’s — and the city’s — most precious natural resource but that means we must actively strive to maintain it, preserve it, protect it, find ways to stabilize it against the ravages of erosion and climate change, and staunchly defend it against efforts to commercialize it.

Similarly, Downtown Evanston is our most precious commercial resource…but our businesses have struggled to survive in the wake of the pandemic, and the city’s revenues and budget have been hit hard, so the challenge is to attract and retain businesses. Essential to this is finding ways to encourage smart development in our downtown — and by that I mean development that respects our zoning ordinance, transitional zones, streetscapes, and surrounding residential areas while actually enhancing the adjacent buildings and the pedestrian experience. As a former small-business owner, this is one of my areas of expertise and I look forward to continuing to share my ideas on how to revitalize the downtown. Another highlight of the 1st Ward are its historic residential neighborhoods, which must be defended against the investor landlords targeting them for disruptive development projects. And I must, of course, include Northwestern University and the vibrancy it adds to our community, but the challenge is to continue to work effectively but firmly to balance neighborhood and university needs while pushing Northwestern University to pay its fair share.      

Clare Kelly’s First Ward

The First Ward has many wonderful assets including the downtown area, a diversity of housing, the lakefront, public transportation (the ‘L’), Northwestern University, parks, bike paths, and cultural centers – all of which kept me living here, in three different homes over a span of 50 years.  Here are three important assets:

The people of the First Ward create a rich social and cultural fabric extending from the North end at Milburn Avenue to the Southern edge at Dempster Street.  The First Ward consists of people from all walks of life, from a broad array of social and cultural dimensions, that give the ward an eclectic vibrancy. There are local business owners, their employees, senior citizens, long time Evanstonians and college students, successful professionals and experts, special needs residents, low, middle, and upper income residents, and families. We all live and work in close proximity to each other. This wonderful blend of the First Ward is reflected in the housing.  Beautiful historic homes near the lakefront to more modest homes, a variety of condos, apartments and co-ops, student housing, and several well situated affordable housing communities, all help to create an inclusive and dynamic environment.  

Local businesses in the First Ward provide a variety of outstanding restaurants, services, amenities, employment opportunities and communal space. Our downtown represents a core communal space both for First Ward residents but also for all Evanstonians and visitors to Evanston. The proximity of these services and amenities creates an environment of walkability and community within the First Ward.

Strong connectivity via biking, walking, and easy access to  public transportation throughout the First Ward is a tremendous benefit to First Ward residents, business owners, employees and visitors. Ease of connection to downtown Chicago and the northern suburbs provides convenient access to a wide variety of activities. I’ve lived most of my time in Evanston, just doors away from the “L” tracks on Colfax Street.  For me, the rumble of the “L” train going by at any hour is the comforting sound of connection and possibilities.  

Some challenges are: protecting our small businesses throughout the Covid pandemic and helping them to recover  post Covid is a central challenge of the First Ward. The Covid pandemic has had a devastating impact on our small businesses and on our downtown area in general. We need to take immediate measures to protect the integrity, resilience, and sustainability of our downtown and help our small businesses succeed both during and post pandemic.  

Protecting the public assets in the First Ward will require strong advocacy accompanied by substantiated budget and impact analyses. The beautiful public cultural and green spaces are  intrinsic to the quality of living and attract visitors to the First Ward and to Evanston.  

While our Ward offers an impressive array of housing options, the integrity of many of our neighborhoods is often jeopardized by a lack of adherence to and enforcement of zoning codes, regulations, and ordinances.  

About the Candidates

Alderman Fiske, has lived in the First Ward since 1973 and has been involved in civic issues at the grassroots level for the majority of her life.

Why She’s Running:  “This is a time of incredible transition and stress, and our city faces new challenges as we seek to rebuild our community and care for our fellow citizens who have been hardest hit by the pandemic. And at a time when the nation’s political discourse, with its belligerent outbursts and dishonest arguments, is threatening to take root in Evanston via a small but vocal group claiming falsely that our City Council is out of touch and lacks transparency, I remain committed to listening to all points of view to reach fair, practical solutions that work for everyone, to full transparency and independence from special interests and political pressures.”

Priorities: “To protect and preserve our most precious natural resource: our lakefront, encourage smart development that would enhance our downtown and increase revenues, provide a high level of service to constituents by responding rapidly to their questions and concerns, be accessible, fair, transparent and independent, be a good listener, by encouraging conversation, by holding regular and special ward meetings, and by promoting civility on all sides.”

Ms Kelly, has lived in Evanston for more than 50 years and worked as an ETHS educator for 30.

Why She’s Running: “I care deeply about Evanston and Evanstonians. As an ETHS educator of thirty years, and as someone who grew up here and raised my children here, I have a deep connection to this place and the people. As a leader, I find and achieve solutions. I have worked as a public servant for thirty years and I fully understand the importance of respecting the needs and interests of all of our residents.”

Priorities: “My top priorities focus on fiscal accountability and responsibility. I will bring strong stewardship and scrutiny to our city finances and promote budgetary discipline.  We have seen our property taxes increase well beyond the rate of inflation for many years, making Evanston one of the top cities in the nation for tax burden causing financial hardship and forcing many people to move out of Evanston. As a result, the diversity of our city has suffered.  Through careful budgetary discipline and scrutiny, we can deliver more and better services to our residents, uphold the city’s stated goal of equity, and more effectively meet the needs, interests, and priorities of our community. To help relieve the financial stress that our city faces, one of my top priorities will be to establish a City of Evanston Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) Task Force to negotiate greater financial contributions from Northwestern University.”

Sam Stroozas

Sam Stroozas is a reporter and the social media manager at the Evanston RoundTable. She covers small businesses, social justice and human interest stories. Contact her at and...