By Bob Seidenberg
Mayor-Elect Daniel Biss has come out with what he described as “a quick note” to his initial statement several days ago that sharply criticized a group behind some political mailings in Evanston as “a shadow political party,” with “an unspoken policy platform.”
In recent weeks, mailings by the group, Evanston Together LLC, have raised concerns that a group of candidates are seeking to change the City’s government from the managerial form now in place to a “strong mayor system,” such as exists in Chicago.
The group mailings have urged voters to vote for candidates who want “to keep Evanston a professionally-run government,” naming five candidates.
The RoundTable story reported that of the five aldermanic candidates endorsed by Evanston Together, three responded saying they had not sought the group’s endorsement, and two of the three maintained they had received no notification of the flyer that went out beforehand.
“In other words,” said Mr. Biss, “this organization, which sent roughly half the campaign communications my household has received in the last 10 days, has nothing to do with the campaigns of any of the candidates, all of whom [on both sides], are running much more positive, issue-focused campaigns.
“It shouldn’t surprise anyone that an ad hoc organization that nobody has heard of before and doesn’t have a brand to protect is able to inject a much more negative, much less well-sourced element into the election,” he said. “It’s on us voters to ignore what they say, so that in future elections nobody even considers using these kinds of tactics.”
In his initial response on March 28, Mr. Biss, a former State legislator and a candidate for governor in the 2018 Democratic primary, charged that Evanston Together LLC had apparently decided that “five aldermanic candidates have a secret agenda to abolish Evanston’s form of government (something that cannot be done without a referendum, by the way). In fact, their most recent mailer admonishes us not to ‘let Evanston become like Cicero’ – an ugly and racially-charged effort to connect us to a majority-Latinx community with a strong mayor government,” he maintained.
“Evanston Together LLC then goes on to imply, again without justification, that these five candidates hold a number of other positions in issues such as ‘home rule’ authority, referenda and more. We’re being asked to believe that there’s essentially a shadow political party in Evanston, with an unspoken policy platform that’s largely unrelated to the issues the actual candidates that allegedly belong to this party are talking about,” he said.
Evanston Together representatives have said they are preparing to release the names of its donors on April 1, when the quarterly reporting period opens.
Dick Peach, treasurer of the group, said issues about Cicero, comparable in size to Evanston and dealing with problems like nepotism and patronage over the years, fit in with the group’s concerns about a strong mayor system.
“It’s about the government, not people,” he stressed about the reference.
Mr. Biss maintained that a change in government has not been the hotly contested issue the mailings suggest.
“I’m pleased to have open communication with all the candidates running in all the wards, and not one of them has indicated this as a priority,” he said.
As the RoundTable has reported, before these mailings a number of candidates expressed interest in exploring a move to a strong mayor system, and a few declared they favored the mayoral system because of the greater accountability it provided with an elected person held responsible for decisions. In addition, the Democratic Party of Evanston included a question about it in the party’s early interviews with candidates in the non-partisan election.
Mr. Biss, who was elected outright to the mayor’s seat in the Feb. 23 primary after receiving 72.36% of the votes, stressed in his first posting he was not encouraging a vote for or against any candidate for alderman.
“I like the candidates supported by Evanston Together LLC and the candidates opposed by Evanston Together LLC, and I will happily work with whoever wins these aldermanic elections to advance the bold, progressive agenda that I ran on and that Evanstonians want to see come to fruition.
“But I would respectfully offer a few bits of advice,” he said. “First of all, don’t base your vote on candidates’ position on this ‘form-of-government’ question, since it strikes me as unlikely that it will be high on the list of items taken up by the next Council.
“Second, 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 them tell you who to vote for.
“Finally, and most important, please don’t buy into the divisive rhetoric trafficked by Evanston Together LLC. They want you to think that the candidates they support are the ‘good ones,’ and the candidates they oppose are the ‘bad ones.’ The truth is that while the policy disagreements we have are real and important, residents who step up should be applauded, not vilified.”