NU, city communicate through formal, casual ties

Lee S. Ettleman

Despite a series of Evanston City Council decisions that directly influence Northwestern students, the university does not lobby the city, an NU official said.

It does have a long history of working with aldermen and city staff.

The school’s relationship with the city comes through a wide range of activities, but “lobbying” is the wrong word, Community Relations Specialist Lucile Krasnow said.

“We work with (the city), we advocate certain things and we partner with them on many, many levels,” Krasnow said. “We do not lobby the city.”

Krasnow works with city officials on “community” issues, she said, and attends NU-sponsored “community conversations” and “community coalition meetings” along with residents and aldermen. Ald. Cheryl Wollin (1st) attended the most recent meeting, Krasnow said.

The four attacks on and around the Evanston Campus since September also have prompted the Evanston Police Department and the University Police Department to try to coordinate their actions to increase campus safety, Krasnow said.

“This is of tremendous concern to the City of Evanston,” Krasnow said. “It goes on on city streets.”

Historically the school has partnered with aldermen and other city staff on projects including the laying of fiber-optic cables beneath roads and a plan to increase city revenues by encouraging students to fill out the U.S. Census questionnaires.

Evanston receives $100 per year per resident who filled out the census in 2000, the last year the questionnaire was issued. With the school’s encouragement, 98 percent of students completed the materials, Krasnow said.

Despite political cooperation in the past, more communication “couldn’t hurt,” said Ald. Steven Bernstein (4th).

“I used to have meetings with (NU Senior Vice President of Business and Finance) Gene Sunshine,” Bernstein said. “They were nothing formal. I don’t know why they dropped off. I think the (historic district) lawsuit had something to do with it.”

The school hasn’t spoken with Bernstein officially since that lawsuit four years ago, he said.

Most of the school’s business with the city deals with Evanston’s planning or zoning boards, Krasnow said. NU had to go through approval processes at the city before starting construction of the Ford Center for Engineering and Design, opened in October.

“We probably spend close to half a million dollars a year in building permits,” Krasnow said. “All of that (construction) has to do with a tremendous number of people in various departments in the city.”

Representatives from NU’s Associated Student Government came to some of the City Council meetings this year related to liquor law changes and a lawsuit against Wollin, whose ward covers about half of NU.

“We try to approach (communication) from a lot of different angles,” ASG external relations chairwoman Jill Sager said. “It’s conversations, e-mails, talking with aldermen between meetings.”

ASG worked with university officials and Ald. Elizabeth Tisdahl (7th) to install better lighting off campus. Sager and ASG President Patrick Keenan-Devlin, then both members of the organization’s external relations committee, examined street lights around the city during a “lighting walk” last November.

More lighting will be added next month near Clark Street and Judson Avenue, near the Alumni Center, Sager said, reading from an e-mail about campus safety sent to a listserv for parents.

Although the school allows individual students and faculty members to contact aldermen on their own, few speak during public comment periods at council meetings.

“I don’t want to appear to be representing the university,” said Richard Roth, the senior associate dean of Medill.

Reach Lee S. Ettleman at [email protected]