Newly elected officials focus on NU, city

Kris Anne Bonifacio

As newly elected officials settle in and start planning ahead for their new terms in office, Northwestern students can feel assured they will remain a part of the agenda of Evanston’s legislative representatives for the next two years.

From offshore wind farms to funding research and development, both State Rep. Robyn Gabel and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky said their plans involve continued partnership with NU and the City of Evanston.

Gabel said one of her top priorities is looking into Evanston’s plans to build an offshore wind farm on Lake Michigan. The proposed plan, which has been in the works since 2009, suggests building the structure four to nine miles east of NU’s campus.

“I’m doing some investigation on what other states are doing and what laws cover that ground,” Gabel said. “I’m looking into drawing up the legislation to support the city if it decides to work on that project.”

She said she’s also looking forward to helping create jobs for the state by looking at innovative technologies.

“I expect to be able to have an impact on Evanston and NU,” Gabel said. “NU is a great incubator for new and creative ideas as well as research and development. Hopefully, we’ll have more state laws that will encourage and foster that kind of research as well as form businesses that come out of research and development.”

Schakowsky also said she wants to continue to stimulate research at NU, especially when it comes to nanotechnology.

“NU is very successful in getting federal dollars for the many important research projects it works on,” Schakowsky said. “I’m looking forward very much to working with them on a lot of scientific endeavors. NU is really the major center for research in nanotechnology, and I’m hoping I can help to make our region, our city and our part of the state to be a national center for nanotechnology.”

Aside from plans with NU, three issues top both representatives’ agenda as far as the City of Evanston is concerned.

The most pressing issue is the police and fire pension reform on the General Assembly’s docket. A bill is currently making its way around in Springfield that proposes a two-tiered pension system for police and firefighters, giving those hired after Jan. 1 reduced benefits. Estimates put Evanston’s pension debt at more than $159 million.

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl met with Gabel last week to discuss the city’s positions on the issue and to get support from the representative and from state senator Jeff Schoenberg. Gabel said she assured Tisdahl that she will be looking out for Evanston’s interest when it comes time to vote for the pension bill.

Another priority for the city is receiving federal funding for a health center, Tisdahl said. She said she hopes to work with Schakowsky throughout the application process for the money to build the center.

“We have rising STD rates and teen pregnancy rates, and we need a federally qualified health center,” Tisdahl said.

Schakowsky said because health care is her top priority domestically in the U.S. Congress, she’s looking forward to working with Evanston to secure those funds.

Another project Schakowsky is hoping to secure Evanston federal funds for is the west side project, which will develop affordable housing on Emerson Street near Ashland Avenue, she said.

“We have been getting funding developing money for the west Emerson area,” she said. “We got $18 million for Evanston, so I’m hoping to get money for the second phase of the program for the exciting plan to build Emerson Square, a new development of 60 affordable housing units and a new city park. It would be wonderful to be able to help with that.”

Tisdahl added that she hopes to work with Gabel and Schoenberg to repair the El purple line and determine the Metra schedule during their bridge construction project.

[email protected]