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Central St. Neighbors’ Association: Survey

Due to a prior commitment, Alderman Tendam was unable to make it to the Central St. Neighbors’ Association forum (February 9th). We have posted his responses to the questions asked here instead, and they were also sent out to members of the Association.

Opening Statement (2 minutes).

When I first came to Evanston, I found a community that made me feel welcome and let me be myself in a way that I’d never experienced before. I first ran for office when funding was cut for Better Existence with HIV (BEHIV), an organization I worked with for many years. I lost my first election, but got involved with a number of community organizations and was elected successfully as 6th Ward Alderman in 2009. I feel that I’ve done a lot of good work on the city council and am proud of all that we’ve accomplished, but I’d like to return to serving the entire city. My work with BEHIV took me into every corner of Evanston, and I want to make sure that everyone, newcomers and lifelong Evanstonians alike, feel as welcome here as I did when I first came.

I am proud to have taken a leadership role on the council on many of our initiatives in the last almost eight years, including amending our Affordable Housing Ordinance to make it more accessible for all, promoting a performing arts center to keep people coming to downtown Evanston, transitioning our libraries to a self-directed fund model that removes them from city politics, and reorganizing our animal shelter. I believe my institutional knowledge of city procedures makes me the strongest candidate to lead our community in these uncertain times.

Our few past Mayors treated the position as a full time plus commitment.  How many hours per week do you anticipate it will take to be a successful Mayor and how will you fit that into your life?

For the past eight years, I have made serving the city of Evanston a full-time commitment, because I think that’s what our citizens deserve. There’s always a lot to be done in our city, and I anticipate being a full-time mayor.  

Please name and elaborate on 3 – 4 things that make Evanston special, that are its strengths.

Here in Evanston we are lucky to have the best of both worlds: access to both Chicago’s urban environment and the North Shore suburban environment. We have access to the CTA buses and trains, Metra trains, Pace buses, and Northwestern buses. We have some of the best schools in the country — schools that will bring families to Evanston so that their kids can learn excel. We have access to Lake Michigan and all our wonderful beaches, as well as strong summer camp programs and  a thriving arts scene, all of which are products of our wonderful Parks and Recreation Department. I think it’s that combination of suburban and urban that makes Evanston truly unique.

What do you see as the 2 biggest problems facing Evanston and how would you address them?

I believe that the two biggest problems facing Evanston today are affordable housing and violence. We’ve made some good strides in the right direction with both of these issues, by amending our Affordable Housing Ordinance and, more recently by establishing new policies and procedures to improve relations between our citizens and the police. However, I believe that the solution to both of these problems lies with a more long-term solution: access to jobs. We need to provide better pathways to education and career tracks for our citizens — paths that will lead them to a living wage and work that they can be proud of. We’ve seen through programs like Curt’s Cafe the power that expanding access can have for our most at-risk citizens, and research shows that bringing better education and work to communities struggling with poverty and violence has tremendous benefits for everyone.

As the Mayor’s position does not vote on legislature nor approve the city’s budget, how will you truly affect change in the City?

The mayor’s job is to address the bigger issues facing the city and bring those citywide problems to the attention of the council. We need to be on the forefront of new and progressive ideas and encourage thinking outside the box, and we need to advocate for solutions in the best interests of our citizens, such as encouraging public/private partnerships to reduce the impact of civic projects on the Evanston taxpayer. The mayor must also build consensus among the aldermen and help them reach compromises when they disagree. In my almost eight years on Council I have worked with all of our aldermen to reach agreements, ensuring that we can do what’s best for the city even when we aren’t coming from the same points of view. I also believe that the mayor needs to build knowledge among the Council of what we’ve already accomplished and how that fits into our plans for the future. I have the institutional knowledge from my time on the council  to provide that viewpoint.

Many of Mayor Tisdahl’s successes have come through her relationship building skills. As Mayor, how do you envision your relationship will be with Northwestern and its President and what does your future with them entail?

I’m fortunate to have a good personal and professional relationship with President Shapiro. (In fact, I organized his welcome party when he first started at Northwestern!) The timing of a relatively new council (five of nine members, including me) coincided with his installation as president eight years ago, and we have since built a positive and productive relationship. I have been pleased with his administration so far — they have hired very responsive new staff who bring a lot to our community, and they’ve done some, good development. Of course we need to be firm about what the city needs and ensure that we have a relationship that benefits both of us.

How is your relationship with our Federal and State representatives and what do you see happening at those levels and how can you impact them and create a positive outcome for Evanston?

I have been endorsed by Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky in this race, as I have a longstanding personal and professional relationship with her. She has seen my leadership on the council in the last eight years and believes that I, of all the mayoral candidates, will best represent Evanston values. In my campaigns for alderman, I was also endorsed by State Senator Daniel Biss, State Representative Robyn Gabel, State Representative Laura Fine, and enjoy good relationships with other elected officials in the area, such as Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) Commissioner Debra Shore. My husband and I have also helped representatives out of district, such as Congressmen Brad Schneider (Democrat, 10th District) and Bill Foster (Democrat, 11th District) by hosting fundraisers for them and actively volunteering on their campaigns as well as our local ones. Both our federal and our state representatives are under a great deal of stress right now, and I intend to assist them in any way I can by ensuring that our city continues to uphold and model the values for which they’re fighting in Springfield and in Washington.

Recently an open space and parks scorecard was created by a city hired outside consultant.  Overall the City scored a C+.  What is your view on the City’s parks, recreation and open space, including a potential new Robert Crown Center?  

I believe that we need to establish a clear Parks and Recreation Fund within our city budget so that we know exactly how much money is being allocated to improving and maintaining our parks and facilities. The fact is that we have little transparency right now, and funding for our parks is scattered all across our budget. I would like to see a consolidated account of what we’re spending, and I believe we need to return control over maintenance of our facilities back to the Parks and Recreation Department. They should be in charge of the park maintenance schedules, because they know the most about what needs to be done. I would also like to see improved access across all our parks and beaches for persons with physical disabilities and will push our new council to consider all the ways in which we might make our parks open to all our citizens.

Our unfunded pension liability continues to grow exponentially.  It’s currently close to $250 million dollars.   Annually the city is contributing over $18 million to fund pensions and we are still below the 50% funding mark.  Much of the city property tax increases go towards paying increased pension liability and thus  tying this to your previous public discussions about maintaining affordability and even freezing property taxes, please provide us with any suggestions and your position about this gorilla on the city’s back.

Simply put, we need to keep doing our due diligence as a city. Recent setbacks in payment have not been because of lack of funding but rather because the state has issued new mortality tables and consequently lowered the status of our funding. Essentially, extending life expectancy by 10 years has put us in a position where we can cover our current employees, but can’t accurately project future costs, and it will take time and organization to fix that problem. I intend to push the council to approach this problem systematically and thoroughly to avoid further complications.

Closing Statements (2 minutes).

As I mentioned in my opening statement, Evanston means a great deal to me personally because it allowed me to be myself in a way that I had never experienced anywhere else. These days that freedom is under attack. We’re seeing increased threats to our civil liberties and we may face federal cuts to our affordable housing grants if the president decides to crack down on sanctuary cities nationwide. I will not let our state and federal government bully us into abandoning our values and the things that make Evanston the community we all love. I am prepared to lose government funding to ensure our status as a sanctuary city, and I will fight for the rights of all my constituents, whether they are citizens or not.  

When someone attacks immigrant rights or women’s rights, they are attacking my rights as a Jew and my rights as a gay man. I will not allow any of those attacks to intimidate me or the city council. My experience and my extensive knowledge of how Evanston works has prepared me to find alternative solutions to federal and state funding at the least cost to our taxpayers, and, with your vote, as mayor I will ensure that Evanston remains a community that we can all be proud of.

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