Evanston, Northwestern not participating in annual Springfield lobby day

Robin Opsahl, City Editor

Evanston and Northwestern will not participate in the annual Evanston Lobby Day in Springfield because of frustration with the state budget gridlock.

The 2016 trip would have been the seventh annual lobbying day, which started with both Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl’s election and University President Morton Schapiro’s tenure in 2009. Tisdahl told the Daily on Wednesday the decision to not participate was reached through discussions between the city manager’s office and NU officials.

The state is currently nearing its eleventh month without a budget.

“Even when I went down to Springfield for the Northwest Municipal Conference, it really was kind of a waste of time,” Tisdahl said. “There’s nothing really happening in Springfield now.”

Weinberg senior Kenny Mok, the former Associated Student Government vice president for B-status finances, said he participated in Lobby Day last year with three other ASG representatives, leaders from the Evanston community and some city and University officials. Although he had a good time on the trip when he went, Mok said it was a tiring experience, and he doesn’t see a problem not going if it will not be productive.

“If the primary purpose is to fight for the things Evanston and Northwestern need, to use that time wisely, I don’t think I have a big issue with (canceling Lobby Day),” Mok said. “If legislators were just going to tell them they can’t do anything right now because of the impasse right now, then that’s the reality.”

Mok said during discussions with state legislators in Springfield on the trip last year, there was already uncertainty about the future of the budget and other negotiations with Gov. Bruce Rauner. Although Evanston officials were able to talk about issues such as funding and pertinent legislation, these discussions would probably not go as far due to the state gridlock, he said.

Weinberg junior Joji Syed, ASG’s former vice president of community relations, said although she wasn’t involved in the decision to not hold Lobby Day this year, she believes ensuring lines of communication between the University and different levels of government is always important. She said during her time as head of the community relations committee, she was able to accomplish more on strengthening communication between the University and Evanston leaders rather than state legislators.

She said that while lobbying at a state level for community issues to be addressed was a good experience for ASG representatives, her committee was able to gain lobbying experience in Evanston outside of the event, in efforts like pushing to improve lighting on the west side of Sheridan Road and in conversations throughout the Chicago area in regards to state funding.

“I just stepped out of my role today but … I hope that for future years we reestablish this tradition,” Syed said. “It’s a great way for the community to get together and show what changes we want to happen.”

Tisdahl said this decision is not permanent. The decision on whether to lead the trip to Springfield will be made on a yearly basis, depending on whether Evanston and NU believe it will be worth the trip, she added.

“The state does not have its act in gear,” Tisdahl said. “There’s not a lot you can really accomplish in Springfield except being happy when you leave.”

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Twitter: @robinlopsahl