Fifth Ward candidates look to cater to diverse needs, expand programming


(Leeks Lim/The Daily Northwestern) A row of homes in the fifth ward, where five candidates are in the race for alderman. Several candidates said they would prioritize expanding affordable housing, workforce development and crime prevention programs.

Kristina Karisch, Assistant City Editor

Six weeks ahead of their primary election, most candidates for Fifth Ward alderman are basing their campaigns around improving affordable housing and crime prevention in the Evanston.

Candidates Carolyn Murray, Robin Rue Simmons, Misty Witenberg, Carlis Sutton and Daniel Featherson said they were hoping to address issues like raising wages and workforce development in the ward if elected as alderman. The other two candidates in the race, Carlis Sutton and Daniel Featherson, could not be reached for comment by the time of publication.

City Clerk Rodney Greene announced in December that the city would hold a primary for the Fifth Ward race because more than four candidates entered the race. The top candidates will move onto the general election in April if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote. As the race closes in on the primary that will be held in late February, several candidates said they had to kick their campaigns into high gear.

Misty Witenberg, a community volunteer who moved to the Fifth Ward in 2014, said she is focusing on providing social mobility for working families, with the long-term target of making Evanston the first American city to reach zero percent poverty. She said her priority will be establishing policies to ensure family stability and help single parents.

“There are so many tradeoffs that families are making all the time, and I want to make sure that I’m giving city leaders and Evanston at large a real opportunity to understand them,” Witenberg said.

Daniel Featherson said he sees improving schools as a way to better the 5th Ward. He has advocated for building schools in the ward itself, so students will no longer have to be bussed to other areas of the city. The 5th Ward is one of Evanston’s only wards without a school.

“(It’s) a little frustrating that people don’t think our community is strong enough to warrant a school,” Featherson said. “I think kids take pride in (their schools).”

Other candidates have proposed policies along the lines of Witenberg’s goal to eliminate poverty in the city. Robin Rue Simmons, a Fifth Ward native and small business owner, counts economic development among her biggest focusses.

Simmons said she is specifically looking to increase jobs and small business support in the ward. She added that she plans to look at redistributing funds for affordable housing support to increase homeownership.

“We have a need for additional opportunities for affordable housing for seniors,” Simmons said. “That is something that is at the top of my list of priorities as well.”

Several of the candidates have issues of affordable housing on their platform. Carolyn Murray, a longtime gun control activist in Evanston, said her campaign will be focused on building a unified platform to address concerns across the ward, with interest shown toward ensuring the availability of affordable housing and effective community policing.

“There is such diversity in the types of demographics and their concerns, but they all live together, so you want to develop a platform that … addresses everyone,” Murray said.

Carlis Sutton, a retired schoolteacher, said he wants to increase recreation and trade school opportunities for youth in the Ward. He said he would focus on increasing job training and encouraging service industries to come to the 5th Ward, using grants and other programs as incentives.

The ward’s current alderman, Delores Holmes, will not be running for re-election this term. She has served as the ward’s alderman since 2005 but said she feels her time in Evanston politics is coming to an end.

“I think 12 years is enough,” Holmes said.

Holmes said she does plan to keep following Evanston politics even after her retirement and is looking forward to hearing the ideas and policies set forward by the five candidates who are running for the position.

Since the campaign is still in the early stages, Holmes said she has not yet made up her mind on who she will support. The longtime Fifth Ward resident said she will endorse a candidate after a forum on Thursday, Jan. 19.

“I don’t want to persuade anyone with my ideas,” she said. “I want to hear what they’re saying. I’ve been an alderman for the last 12 years, and I’m pretty familiar with the ward and its needs. So I’m waiting to hear from them and see something in writing.”

The primary for Fifth Ward alderman will be held on Feb. 28.

This article was updated on Feb. 13 to include comments from Carlis Sutton and Daniel Featherson.

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Twitter: @kristinakarisch