Evanston, NU weigh possibility of lobbyist

Ali Elkin

In keeping with recent cooperative efforts, representatives from Northwestern and Evanston say they plan to work together to represent mutual issues at both the state and national levels of government.At a recent goal-setting meeting of the City Council, the aldermen and Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl discussed the possibility of hiring a lobbyist to represent the city’s interests, as many surrounding municipalities have done. Tisdahl also met with University President Morton O. Schapiro last month to discuss areas of collaboration and cooperation. At this meeting, Tisdahl identified the community’s need for a new fire engine, the funds for which NU later subsequently provided to the city. One of the other areas of cooperation they discussed, Tisdahl said, was the representation of city and University interests in the larger sphere of government. “Northwestern has offered to cooperate with us in terms of lobbying, and they have excellent lobbyists,” Tisdahl said at the Sept. 21 meeting. City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said since the meeting, he has been working on a plan for an Evanston lobbyist, which he will present to the council on Monday. “Really there’s a dialogue that was created over the last couple of weeks that hasn’t existed in the past,” Bobkiewicz said. “(NU and Evanston) are now talking to one another about what we can do together. As we go down the road, if there are other opportunities to work together, we’ll take them.”Bobkiewicz also said one of the city’s biggest concerns – transportation – could use the assistance of a lobbyist. Maintaining the CTA Purple Line and Metra stations are priorities for which neither the city nor the local transit authorities have sufficient funds, he said. “Certainly this is an issue Northwestern joins us on, since professors and students use these trains every day, ” Bobkiewicz said.Capital improvements, such as refurbishing the city’s water treatment facility, could also be addressed by a lobbyist, he said.Bobkiewicz said he has been preparing his presentation for the City Council by working with Bruce Layton, NU’s special assistant to the president for government relations. NU already has lobbyists in Spingfield, Ill., and Washington, D.C., who bring in government funding for research grants and financial aid, Layton said. He said several cities choose to hire lobbyists to work with state and federal government. “Some cities do and some don’t,” Layton said. “I know there are a number of lobbyists in Springfield that represent municipalities.”According to the Web site lobbyists.info, a database of lobbyists and their clients, Aurora, Grayslake, Oak Park and DeKalb are among the Illinois municipalities that already have lobbyists on their city payrolls. Layton said this cooperation between the University and the city is a first, as far as he can remember. “I’ve been here nine years and I can’t recall having had such conversations before,” he said. a.elkin@u.northwestern.edu