Candidates weigh options to jump-start city’s economy

Amanda Luevano

Even for Evanston aldermanic candidates, the economy seems to be the only issue up for discussion.

“Economic development and economic development,” said Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd). “Those are my two main priorities.”

Wynne, who is running unopposed, joined candidates from the First, Second and Fourth Wards at the Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Ave., for a question-and-answer session sponsored by the Downtown Residents Association. Candidates discussed development, aldermanic integrity and the Downtown Plan.

All six candidates agreed the city must take steps to meet the challenges of the ailing economy.

“I would like to see a deeper level of commitment to businesses,” Fourth Ward candidate Donald Wilson said. “It’s very distressing to see businesses disappear or struggle.”

Ald. Lionel Jean-Baptiste (2nd), also running unchallenged, said council members have discussed hiring an economic development director to bring in new businesses and create more jobs.

“The council is committed to hiring an economic director to look at how we can open the door for businesses to come to Evanston,” he said.

Wynne also said she supported the creation of such a position.

“We need to be looking at how to find economic development opportunities for the city,” she said.

Jean-Baptiste agreed that more opportunities are needed, but he defended the development that has taken place in recent years, particularly in downtown Evanston.

“Through struggle and through council staying the course, we were able to create a dynamic entity downtown,” he said. “Many of you come to downtown Evanston not because of what it was, but because of what it has become.”

Answering a question from the audience, Ald. Cheryl Wollin (1st) explained her position on the newly adopted Downtown Plan, which she voted to pass at the Feb. 9 council meeting.

“The dynamism and vibrancy of our downtown is at stake here,” Wollin said. “I really do believe that part of the center of the city should have a sculptured skyline slightly higher than the other buildings in the area.”

The plan, adopted by the council, included a 35-story height limit for the Fountain Square Plaza development after years of debate.

Judy Fiske, who is challenging Wollin for the second time, said she opposed the plan and accused aldermen of making decisions behind closed doors.

“I wouldn’t have encouraged the developer, and I wouldn’t have met in private with that developer,” Fiske said. “Height is not the issue here; it’s use and balance.”

Jean-Baptiste countered Fiske’s claim, saying that any meetings were at the request of Interim City Manager Rolanda Russell or city staff.

“Those who claim there was a secret meeting are absolutely incorrect,” Jean-Baptiste said. “We take a position, we make sacrifices, we debate openly.”

[email protected]