Mural on Foster Street at Ashland Avenue by Alfonxo Piloto Nieves Ruiz

The RoundTable asked all candidates for alderman to give a tour of their ward, highlighting its three top assets and three most serious challenges. Here are their responses.

Because of some editing errors, portions of Carolyn Murray’s responses were omitted. We hope readers will read both candidates’ full responses.

Bobby Burns’s Fifth Ward

Let’s start with the assets: our (1) natural environment (e.g., Twiggs, Butler, Becks, and Ingram Park; and the Mayfair line cutoff and Fleetwood Field); (2) community institutions (e.g., Fleetwood- Jourdain Center, Family Focus, Lorraine Morton Civic Center, and Gibbs-Morrison); and – most important – (3) our people, who carry our ward’s rich history, run its block clubs, and give Evanston much of the diversity on which we pride ourselves.

Now let’s go to Fireman’s Park, which is dedicated to brave firefighters who gave their lives saving others and sits between single family homeowners, renters, and Northwestern University students who rent off campus. The students energize the area which helps to support nearby businesses, but the mix of families, seniors, and students creates unique challenges that likely led to a recent proposal by an alderman to ban games involving alcoholic beverages on front lawns. There’s also a concern about general upkeep of property by out-of-town landlords.

Next let’s Divvy to Smith Park, where you have a tight-knit group of families coexisting downwind from a factory that manufactures coatings for oil pipelines. The factory emits odors. Organizers from the community have noticed improvements after working with local officials to communicate their concerns to the company, but the situation is ongoing and requires close monitoring and further air quality testing. 

From there, it’s a short ride to West Evanston, where we have distinct 2-3 flats that were converted from single family homes to accommodate an influx in the area’s population around 1910. Discriminatory zoning policy, racial steering, restrictive covenants, and informal adherences of “Jim Crow” policies forced African Americans living in Evanston into the West End area. The 2008 market crash devastated the community. Supported by federal funding, the City took action through the Live Evanston housing program to purchase foreclosed homes and put them back on the market at affordable rates. Today permissive zoning and the availability of land and property has made this area a desirable place, but also an area vulnerable to gentrification.

Last stop: the neighborhood around ETHS football field is a quiet neighborhood and home to newer families and longtime homeowners. In 2017, a proposal to install a Water Pump Station on the 1700 block of McDaniel Ave. became a contentious issue. The city needed a pumping facility to satisfy its water supply agreement with Morton Grove and Niles, and the neighbors were concerned about the impact it may have on property value and quality of life. The facility has since been constructed, and now requires monitoring for property damage and noise pollution.

Carolyn Murray’s Fifth Ward

I am a lifelong Fifth Ward homeowner. I have lived in many parts of the world, but I always return to the 5th Ward, because it is special. I believe that Evanston’s 5th 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. 

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.  

One of the Fifth 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.

About the Candidates

Bobby Burns: Political campaign manager; lived in the Fifth Ward for three years; worked, organized, and associated with the Fifth Ward for 23 years.

Why He’s Running: “I want to protect the health and character of the Fifth Ward and its residents, and to ensure that our children can learn, grow, and prosper.”

Priorities: Address the lingering effects of redlining; diversifying community voices: equitable delivery of public services: other concerns: property standards enforcement, lack of urban planning, lack of translation services, garbage pickup, tree maintenance.

Carolyn Murray: Navy veteran; lifelong Fifth Ward resident; led Fifth Ward community meetings for Alderman Delores Holmes; started gun-buyback program with Evanston Police Department; planned and hosted candlelight vigils and Fifth Ward National Night Out events.

Why She’s Running: I want to be an alderperson because I love my community, and I have served people in this city for almost 20 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 5th 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 December 8th, 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.

Priorities: 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.

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...