Mayor talks town-gown relations to students

Meghan Morris , Reporter

Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl spoke Wednesday afternoon about town-gown relations to a small group in an event organized by the Northwestern University Political Union.

The 45-minute discussion drew only seven people to Norris’ Lake Room to talk about the tensions between the city of Evanston and NU.

Political Union co-president Steven Monacelli, a former Daily staffer, said he hoped students engaged more personally with the mayor in the small setting.

“Typically we only hear sound bites from her on the news or from some official event,” the Communication senior said.

Monacelli said low attendance was likely due to the event’s mid-afternoon timing, post-election political apathy and busy schedules.

Tisdahl opened the discussion by talking about city’s recent decision to approve a building permit for NU’s proposed visitors center next to the Clark Street beach. She said the Evanston community rallied against the University, sending hundreds of emails protesting the building and the planned lease cost.

“There was a lot of Northwestern bashing at the city council meeting,” she said.

The mayor then touched on various strains between the city and the University, including the over-occupancy rule, colloquially known as the “brothel law,” which prohibits more than three unrelated people from living together. She said she supports legislation allowing higher occupancy rates, which she said would help low-income residents as well as students.

However, she said no students or residents have been evicted under the occupancy rule.

“The idea that cities go around evicting people is fascinating to me,” Tisdahl said. “Cities go around trying to find housing for people who don’t have it.”

In addition to housing, the mayor discussed student alcohol use and subsequent disruptive behavior in neighborhoods. She said she does not view Evanston as a college town, but rather a city with a university.

“It’s not unreasonable to want to protect the quality of some of the neighborhoods that are historic and single-family,” Tisdahl said.

In January, Tisdahl revoked The Keg of Evanston’s liquor license because of the number of underage drinking citations. She said the bar remains open, with additional carding measures to dissuade underage patrons, because the Illinois Liquor Commission is still reviewing the case on appeal.

“Closing The Keg was one of the best things I’ve ever done,” Tisdahl said.

Monacelli said he hoped students learned that the mayor has done more than shut down a popular bar.

“She’s not just a figurehead that lays down decrees to close The Keg,” he said.

The mayor also touched on Dillo Day, NU’s annual music festival at the end of Spring Quarter. The day historically strains town-gown relations, as students begin drinking before the concert begins.

“Neighbors say we could handle Dillo Day if it was the only day, but it’s the number of days like Dillo Day that makes life hard to handle in the neighborhoods,” Tisdahl said. “I breathe a sigh of relief when everyone survives Dillo Day.”

Political Union marketing director Connor Tatooles said he hopes students recognize politics are a process.

“Issues in Evanston aren’t easily solved because it takes a while for things to happen,” the Weinberg sophomore said.

Tisdahl said historic relations have improved from when she first became an alderman. Tisdahl attributed much of the change to University President Morton Schapiro’s leadership over the past three years.

“It’s a complex relationship,” she said. “There are always going to be problems that crop up.”