Mayoral candidate Steve Hagerty aims to provide stability for Evanston
February 3, 2017
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Steve Hagerty never dreamed of a career in emergency consulting. As a student, he had hoped to work in the public sector — city management or government accountability. But when he applied to 75 local and state jobs after graduate school, none asked him back.
Disappointed, the 24-year-old settled for a post at then-Pricewaterhouse where he consulted for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He thrived there and soon built a reputation as one of the best in his field.
So, shortly after 9/11, 32-year-old Hagerty was called on to manage the “unprecedented” $7.4 billion public assistance program.
“Anyone after 9/11 would have taken the opportunity to help,” Hagerty said. “People just felt helpless, so to have been fortunate enough to be called to help with the recovery really was cathartic.”
After a lifetime serving communities across the U.S., Hagerty said he wants to commit to his own. In October, the businessman formally kicked off his mayoral campaign with support from former mayor Lorraine H. Morton.
Hagerty, who has lived in Evanston for 17 years, said he does not intend to make radical changes. Instead, he sees himself as a steady hand to keep the city on track during a time of unease.
In 1999, Hagerty moved to Evanston so his wife, Lisa Altenbernd, could attend graduate school at Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy and settled into the community, he said.
Once embedded in the community, Hagerty left PricewaterhouseCoopers and started his own Evanston-based firm. Today, he employs more than 100 professionals from all over the country and has assisted more than 30 states in recovery and preparedness projects.
But despite his name on the door, Hagerty said he wants to transition away from the business and focus on Evanston. Since he began to consider a mayoral bid two years ago, Hagerty said he has built a strong management team to run day-to-day operations.
“I can continue to have a part-time role here with my company, but it affords me the flexibility that I need to help the city,” Hagerty said.
Hagerty has three major goals for Evanston: expand economic development to all neighborhoods, strengthen youth development to reduce violence and maintain diversity through affordable housing.
“The role of the mayor is to balance lots of competing demands,” Hagerty said. “Strike that balance between smart and sensible economic development and not losing the character of the city. Between keeping all of our neighborhoods safe and not infringing on people’s rights.”
Hagerty said he would continue to build on “generations” of work and seek out ways to break down silos through community partnerships.
Patrick Hughes, a supporter and Evanston resident, said Hagerty has a “genuine” interest in public service and building community. As a co-chair of MashUp — a community organization that brings together more than 500 individuals for an annual gala — Hagerty leads the effort to raise about $50,000 through sponsorships.
“When he’s in the room, things just move a little more efficiently,” Hughes said. “He can articulate a message. … He gets the benefit of everyone being under the tent in one night.”
Over the course of his campaign, Hagerty has tried to get the NU community under his tent. Last month he handed out hot chocolate in front of the Technological Institute. His campaign posters are plastered onto The Arch walkway, and a group of students run the “NU Students for Steve Hagerty” Facebook page to spread his campaign.
But those efforts may be compromised by a history of low engagement from the Northwestern community on mayoral elections. University archivist Kevin Leonard told The Daily last month that the NU community rarely turns out for municipal elections, but if they did, their votes could be enough to sway the race in one direction.
Despite previously low turnout, Hagerty thinks this year might be different.
“Students these days — especially with things that are going on at the national level — are looking for outlets and venues to get involved,” he said. “And one of those is at the local level. … Evanston is going to be an epicenter for social justice.”
Sean van Dril, a McCormick senior, said he joined the campaign for that very reason. After an “ugly” presidential election, he said he sought out ways to enact change at the local level. After reaching out to all the mayoral candidates, van Dril chose Hagerty because he “actually has the skills and experience to carry out a progressive agenda.”
Van Dril said he coordinates a group of about 15 students who support the candidate. If young people want to enact change, he said, they need only look to their own municipal election.
“At the national level, it’s going to take millions of votes to do something,” he said. “Here, if we get the Northwestern students voting, it can totally turn an election.”