Evanston appoints lobbyists to bring city interests to Washington

Grace Johnson

City leaders made the decision last week to hire a lobbying team to represent Evanston in Washington, with the idea that “you have to spend money to make money,” City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said.

Evanston City Council approved a contract May 10 with the law firm Holland & Knight LLP to last until February 2012.

“The mix of funding for the lobbyist is coming from a variety of different places, in part so we know it won’t be taken from programs that need it,” Bobkiewicz said. “But the primary reason to hire a lobbyist is to bring resources to Evanston.”

The lobbying team will earn $65,000 for the first year of the contract and $95,000 for the second year. The money comes from several different funds, including those for economic development, affordable housing and water and sewer development.

Ald. Jane Grover (7th) was initially unsure of the plan because of concerns about where the money would be coming from.

“I was one of those people in the beginning who was skeptical that we would be taking money away from other areas in our budget that need it,” she said. “Our budget is so tight and our expenses are increasing.”

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, Grover and Ald. Mark Tendam (6th) traveled to Washington in early April to meet with the final lobbying candidates. There, Grover became convinced the benefits of a lobbyist would outweigh the costs.

“I became persuaded that there was low-hanging fruit, but also larger programs we can take advantage of,” Grover said. “The money we will spend will pay for itself.”

The city will form a relationship with the team gradually and adjust the contract as needed, Tendam said. If city leaders are unhappy with the progress of the lobbying team, they could back out of the contract, Tendam said.

Although Tisdahl and Bobkiewicz have lobbied for Evanston in Washington and Springfield, the city sees the hiring of a professional lobbyist as another step toward cementing communication between Evanston and federal legislators and administrators.

“We can leverage Evanston’s story and assets even more with the help of a lobbyist,” Grover said.

The hiring of a lobbying team fits into a bigger push by the city for greater communication between Evanston, Springfield and Washington, Grover said.

The city has also hired an intergovernmental relations coordinator to be the point person for communication between political centers, Grover said.

Although Evanston has already received $18 million in federal funds for the Neighborhood Stabilization Program 2, Bobkiewicz said there’s more to be had.

“We’ve only gotten a few million (dollars) from the government,” Bobkiewicz said. “The federal budget is in the trillions of dollars. There are a lot of zeros between those two amounts. There are clearly opportunities for the city to benefit from more programs that we clearly aren’t benefitting from. We owe it to the residents of Evanston to make sure we are getting our fair share.”

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