Christopher Stewart can’t just order coffee when he visits Pick a Cup Coffee Club, 1813 Dempster St.
As he walks to the counter, he gravitates toward every table he passes and falls into conversations with the customers.
As a candidate for Second Ward alderman, Stewart, 39, wants to know what people want.
“What I’ve noticed about Christopher is that he’s happiest and most excited when he’s talking with residents of the ward one-on-one,” said Stewart’s wife Claire, a librarian Northwestern.
As acting dean of libraries at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Stewart said he loves information.
Right now, he’s researching what he can do to improve the community as Second Ward alderman.
That’s why he likes Pick a Cup.
“It’s a new business in the ward on a strip of Dempster Street that really needs help,” Stewart said. “I want to do everything I can to help. It’s become a wonderful community gathering place. Plus, they have really good coffee.”
To help new businesses, Stewart said he would meet regularly with the Evanston Chamber of Commerce to attract a diverse mix of businesses to the Second Ward. Right now, he said, regular meetings aren’t happening.
Stewart also said he wants the city to help all businesses — not just those downtown.
“Everyone loves downtown Evanston,” he said, “but I think it’s time for the city to begin focusing on its other business districts.”
Stewart said he is concerned about the economic effects of Evanston City Council’s adverse relationship with NU.
Although he disapproved of NU’s purchase of 1800 Sherman Ave., Stewart said City Council should have anticipated and prepared for the purchase based on NU’s previous land acquisitions.
“What concerns me is just how marginalized the relationship has become,” Stewart said. “There’s certainly fault with the administration of the university, but I think the city council must claim its responsibility.”
The council should be less belligerent toward NU, Stewart said, and NU should increase its local philanthropic work and share its intellectual resources with the community.
Stewart, a graduate of Evanston Police Department’s Citizen Police Academy, said he will push for better programs increasing public safety awareness.
Stewart, who has worked for various nonprofit organizations over the years, said running for alderman is “part of a long road of service.”
He moved to Evanston in 2003 because his mother and his wife’s family are from the city. Living in Evanston has always been his dream, he said.
“It’s my hometown now, too,” he said. After years of working to afford a home in Evanston, Stewart said affordable housing is close to his heart.
“Affordable housing is a citywide issue,” Stewart said. “It’s only going to become more pronounced.”
During an aldermanic debate to be aired this month on Evanston local access channels, his opponent, incumbent Ald. Lionel Jean-Baptiste (2nd), said Stewart has not lived in Evanston long enough to understand the ward.
“It’s not intellectual,” Jean-Baptiste said during the debate. “I don’t think that Chris has been engaged the ward.”
He said if Stewart wanted to help with issues such as affordable housing, he would have already joined an affordable housing committee.
Stewart’s campaign manager, Cathryn Crawford, disagrees.
“When Christopher moved to Evanston he really threw himself into getting to know the community,” said Crawford, who is also Stewart’s sister. “We have a family tradition of being committed to our community.”
Stewart said he intends to address individuals’ problems as well as larger issues facing the community.
“The people that I’m speaking with want a more open, communicative alderman,” Stewart said. “You cannot lead without being constantly willing to listen and learn.”
Stewart said he’s ready to do both.
Reach Elizabeth Gibson at [email protected]