Juan Geracaris said since beginning his tenure on Evanston’s City Council four months ago, he’s focused on getting up to speed as quickly as he can.

Juan Geracaris (NextSteps photo)

“For the first couple of months, I’ve been focusing on learning as much as I can about how city services work,” Geracaris said. “Figuring out who’s in charge of what, that’s been a big part of onboarding myself basically, since I’m jumping on kind of off-cycle.”

Appointed in February to fill the vacancy former Council member Cicely Fleming left when she resigned, he is believed to be the first Latinx Council member in Evanston’s history.

He will serve as the appointed Ninth Ward Council member until the 2023 municipal elections, when a special election will be held for the remaining two years of Fleming’s unexpired term.

Though he’s a new face on the council, he has a long history in Evanston – even though his life started thousands of miles away.

His background

Geracaris was born and grew up in the city of Salta in northwest Argentina. When he was 3 years old, he and his parents immigrated to what he called a “small farming community” in his mother’s home state of Wisconsin. 

He went to Northwestern University in 1993 to earn a degree in mechanical engineering. He said in the 29 years since, he’s always been present in Evanston in some way.

“When I got here to Evanston and Chicago, I just loved the city and loved working here,” Geracaris said. “So I decided to stay.”

Following graduation, Geracaris began working full-time for Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management as an IT professional. He continues to work there today as a senior network systems engineer, and said he’s lived in the Ninth Ward for 14 years.

Now 47 years old, he lives with his wife and two children, both of whom attend Oakton Elementary School. He said a few other occupants in the yard often draw attention from neighbors. “The whole neighborhood knows our house, because we have a big garden and chickens,” he said.

Community connections

In addition to his appointment to City Council, Geracaris has key leadership roles in several community organizations:

He said he initially became engaged with organizing through Evanston Latinos, which was more loosely organized prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said when the pandemic arrived, gaining full nonprofit status became critical to providing greater relief.

“We realized there were grant opportunities and things we could do that we needed nonprofit status for,” Geracaris said. “Our focus early on in the pandemic was around getting people in touch with aid, direct aid, and also doing a lot of translation services for the city.”

Geracaris said allocating funds was also a major component of his work on the Oakton School PTA. He said fundraising was needed to cover before- and after-school programs, student scholarships, a garden expansion and other projects meant to “build up school infrastructure.”

Beyond fundraising, he said his work also focused on creating equity in which families engage with the PTA and its activities.

“Just trying to get more families to be welcoming and have more families involved in the PTA, and also trying to eliminate any barriers and be more inclusive,” Geracaris said. “One of the things I’m really proud of that we do at Oakton is that we have translations of all of our PTA meetings.”

Community connections

Now finishing his fourth month on City Council, Geracaris said he’s working to apply those same principles of equity and engagement to his work in the Ninth Ward. He said his ward meetings and office hours use a Spanish-English interpreter to facilitate cross-language discussions, but added that buy-in from Spanish-speaking residents has been slower than in the Oakton PTA.

“You have to be intentional about offering those services, and I think eventually people will show up,” Geracaris said. “I would love to say half the people that show up are Spanish-only speakers, but it’s just something I have to keep working on.”

He said he’s also focused on being transparent and accountable to residents for his actions as a council member. He posts summaries of meetings he attends on his Twitter feed, including explanations for each of his votes.

One action at the June 6 Rules Committee meeting could have far-reaching effects on Evanston politics. The committee unanimously passed Geracaris’s proposal to adopt ranked-choice voting for future city elections on to the full council. Council members voted 7-0 at their July 11 meeting to approve a resolution that instructs the City Clerk to place a referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot asking Evanston voters whether they want to move to the ranked-voting system starting with the April 2025 consolidated election.

He said his main policy focus, however, is making Evanston more affordable. He said the Ninth Ward, located in south Evanston, has “more working class folks” at risk of being priced out, and that promoting affordable housing to prevent this is a top priority.

“It’s getting harder to find apartments, homes,” Geracaris said. “There’s not one magic bullet to fix that, but that’s something I really want to work on.”

Alex Harrison

Alex Harrison joins the RoundTable for the summer in between his undergraduate and graduate studies at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

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  1. I hate to dump cold water on this, but I never receive notices of 9th Ward meetings and I’m signed up for the City’s official meeting notifications. I accidentally found out about a 9th Ward meeting on Facebook and signed in for the meeting an hour late. A friend of mine saw the notice the following day. Some people are being systematically excluded. This is not how the Ward should be run. If Juan is the head of NU IT, he should be able to figure out how to issue official notices and reports. At this point, it feels like he was the wrong choice for this position.