Despite a name that speaks of unity, a recently formed Political Action Committee is exposing some political fault lines in the community.
Evanston Together LLC, formed earlier this month, has only two public faces – both of whom are well known and active members of the community. Marya Frankel is listed as the manager of the LLC, and Dick Peach is listed as the treasurer.
The PAC created a video attacking one aldermanic candidate and sent out mailers endorsing other candidates – some of whom told the RoundTable they did not seek the endorsement.
The mailings to date have purported to divide aldermanic candidates into two camps: those who allegedly favor the current “Council-Manager” form, in which a City Manager manages the City, and those who allegedly favor a “Strong Mayor” system, in which an elected mayor would manage the City. In one mailing Evanston Together LLC likened favoring a Strong Mayor system as a move to be like Cicero.
Many people have said they believe that the characterization of certain candidates as favoring a Strong Mayor form of government misrepresents the candidates’ views. In addition, many have said they believe that the mailer’s assertion that a move to a Strong Mayor system would be a move to become like Cicero goes beyond the pale.
On March 26, the RoundTable spoke with Mr. Peach about Evanston Together LLC.
Asked who is behind the organization, Mr. Peach said, “I don’t know who all is involved. It’s odd. They came to me and asked me to sign on as treasurer. … I think it came from that early email [invitation sent by Jane Grover and Delores Holmes] – there were 100 people who were interested in attending a Zoom meeting about ‘good government.’”
That Zoom meeting, however, did not take place.
Ms. Holmes, a retired alderman and nearly lifelong Evanston resident, told the RoundTable she was involved in the original group because “I’d received a call and someone asked if I could sign [the email invitation], so I co-signed the letter because I had some concerns.
“The meeting didn’t happen, so I don’t know anything else about the group,” she said.
Mr. Peach also said he does not know who is paying for the mailers and who is creating the content.
The RoundTable contacted the five aldermanic candidates who are endorsed by Evanston Together to ask whether they had solicited the endorsement or been apprised of it beforehand.
Three responded, saying they did not seek the endorsement. Two further said they received no notification of the endorsement or the flyer beforehand.
One said that she and her opponent had each been trying to conduct a “civil” campaign and the flyers were injecting a note of discord. The second candidate similarly stressed efforts to run a “positive” campaign.
Mr. Peach also appeared to be uncomfortable with the content. “The early mailer was heavy-handed and I didn’t like it. I told them.” He said of an upcoming mailer “the one coming out, I was able to get some of the heavy-handedness out.”
Mayor-Elect Daniel Biss told the RoundTable, “I think it’s a real shame. I think the campaign [by Evanston Together] itself is misleading at best.”
Mr. Peach is also concerned about the secrecy of Evanston Together LLC. “The lack of transparency I’m not happy with. This is the most non-transparent group I’ve ever been with. They’ve left me and Marya [Frankel] to answer questions from the media. We don’t have the answers.
“I don’t know who’s paying for the mailers. I’m the treasurer, and I haven’t seen a dime.”
Mr. Biss’s post also says, “If an organization that claims to be about good government refuses to tell you where it gets its money or how it backs up its assertions, don’t let it tell you who to vote for.”
Responding by email to questions from the RoundTable, Ms. Frankel wrote, “Evanston Together will publicly disclose its donors on April 1, when the quarterly reporting period opens April 1-15. This state PAC operates just like union PACs and others that are currently active in Evanston.”
Changing the Form of Government
The thrust of two of the Evanston Together mailers is the assertion that certain candidates would abolish Evanston’s current form of government.
In at least one forum, candidates were asked whether they would be open to exploring a different form of government for Evanston. Several candidates said they would be open to exploring the issue.
To change the form of government, voters would have to approve the change in a referendum. Article 7, section 6(f) of the Illinois Constitution reads, “A home rule unit shall have the power subject to approval by referendum to adopt, alter or repeal a form of government provided by law.”
Mr. Peach told the RoundTable, “I think Evanston cares very deeply about the form of government. I don’t think any of the candidates said outright they would change the form of government. They would look into it. …”
Community Alliance for Better Government, another Evanston group that backs specific candidates, said in a statement that it “denounces the aspersions and lies that have [been] broadcast to the Evanston community. We are not seeking to change City government. We are not Cicero. We are Evanston. Stop the fear-mongering and dark money.”
A post on Mr. Biss’s FaceBook page also disputes the claim that certain candidates wish to change the current form of City government.
“Recently Evanston voters have received some very confusing campaign flyers accusing certain candidates of wanting to abolish Evanston’s form of government.”
The post continues, “Is it a hotly debated issue between aldermanic candidates?
“In a word, no. No candidate is running on a platform of changing the form of government.”
One candidate told the RoundTable, “What I think we should be doing is laying the foundation for the next City Council to find common ground.”
Ms. Holmes said one of her main concerns goes beyond the present campaign season. As examples she cites the negative reaction to the process of appointing the current City Manager and calls for defunding the police.
“Now I’m concerned that we don’t trust each other – the level of trust is gone.”
She added, “If we want to have a say, we have to put what we want to say on the table.” Of the manner in which that is often being done, she said, “This is not my Evanston.”
The RoundTable does not endorse candidates for political offices.
Ms. Frankel and Mr. Peach of Evanston Together LLC are members of the Advisory Committee of Evanston RoundTable Media NFP. As such, they are not members of the Board of Directors. The RoundTable has 40 members on its Advisory Committee, most of whom have been active in the community for many years. Advisory Committee members have a First Amendment right to endorse candidates in their personal capacity, but in so doing they are not speaking for the RoundTable, and Mr. Peach and Ms. Frankl have not purported to do so. Moreover, the RoundTable had no part in preparing any documents or mailers disseminated by Evanston Together. The RoundTable does not endorse candidates for political offices.