NU students can tip scale in mayoral election, University archivist says


Jeffrey Wang/Daily Senior Staffer

Evanston mayoral candidates speak at an election forum at Chute Middle School on Thursday night. The Northwestern community has historically engaged in Evanston elections.

Erica Snow, Reporter

While Northwestern students are typically not engaged with Evanston elections, if the turnout is high enough, their votes could be enough to sway the race in the first contested mayoral election since 2009.

Five candidates — Steve Hagerty, Ald. Brian Miller (6th), Ald. Mark Tendam (9th), Gary Gaspard and Jeff Smith — will face off on Feb. 28 for the primary election. The top candidates will appear on the ballot for the general election on April 4. If one candidate carries 51 percent or more of the primary vote they will automatically be elected mayor, and the general election will not be held.

Although no current Northwestern students or faculty members are on this year’s ballot, members of the community have pursued candidacies in the past. In a controversial 2001 election, Kellogg Prof. Allan Drebin ran for 1st Ward alderman against incumbent Ald. Arthur Newman. As a tenured professor, Drebin was criticized for his ties to the University, which his opposition labeled a conflict of interest. But he said at the time his relations to the University wouldn’t impede his aldermanic roles and actually served as an advantage.

The 1st Ward covers the sorority quad, many off-campus residences and residence halls such as Allison Hall, 1838 Chicago, Shepard Hall, Foster-Walker Complex and Elder Hall.

University archivist Kevin Leonard said Northwestern students have typically been more engaged with presidential elections, registering to vote in Illinois but not voting in municipal elections likely because of lack of interest.

When students and faculty have been on the ballot, he said, students can be more compelled to vote locally. But Evanston residents have historically seen elected officials with connections with the University as divisive for town-gown relations.

“You’ll see students coalescing around a candidate during times of stress between Northwestern and the community,” Leonard said. “There have been periods of time when the relationship between the institution and the town have not been the rosiest.”

In 1997, then-Weinberg sophomore Raj Udeshi ran for 1st Ward alderman against Newman as a write-in candidate but lost 653-100. In 1993, then-Weinberg senior Tom Lupfer also ran against Newman and received 352 votes against Newman’s 963 votes.

In Evanston elections with quantitatively slim margins, students can decide an election if they turn out to vote, Leonard said.

“Any block vote could have more of an impact,” Leonard said, “(especially) in a race like this, where you have so many candidates who will be dividing up the pool of votes.”

Associated Student Government passed a resolution in support of Udeshi in 1997, and then-ASG president campaigned for Drebin in 2001. Current ASG President Christina Cilento said there is no plan currently for ASG to publicly support any candidate for mayor.

Students should have an interest in Evanston local politics that will affect them their four years in Evanston, then-candidate Drebin said.

“Because students traditionally have not voted, they have not been represented,” Drebin said during a 2001 debate.

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