Mayoral candidates talk town-gown relations at Northwestern-held forum


Katie Pach/Daily Senior Staffer

The five mayoral candidates stand on stage at a forum hosted by Northwestern Thursday evening. The candidates emphasized the importance of keeping town-gown relations intact.

Nora Shelly, City Editor

Evanston’s five mayoral candidates all agreed Thursday night: maintaining open communication between the city and the University was essential.

“What this is is a marriage, and being married, I understand the most important thing we can do is to communicate your needs (to) both sides,” Ald. Brian Miller (9th) said of the relationship between Evanston and Northwestern. “There might be some hard conversations, but it’s what we need to do to keep our marriage right.”

All five candidates attended the forum, including Ald. Mark Tendam (6th), businessman Steve Hagerty, former Evanston Township supervisor Gary Gaspard and lawyer Jeff Smith (Weinberg ’77).

The candidates shared their view on town-gown relations and other issues at a forum hosted by President Morton Schapiro and other Northwestern officials Thursday evening. They emphasized the importance of taking advantage of what the University has to offer, such as student volunteers and opportunities for the city to benefit from industry experts employed by NU.

Alan Anderson, executive director of neighborhood and community relations for the University, said the forum was a chance for University officials to get to know the potential future mayors and vice versa.

“I was very pleased to hear the sense of optimism of all the candidates in terms of the relationship, and that feels good,” Anderson said.

Before the forum started, Schapiro emphasized the importance of a close working relationship between the mayor and the University.

“Everybody knows that I have had a very close personal relationship and working relationship (with Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl),” he said. “If we work together nothing can stop us.”

The event was moderated by political science department chair Sara Monoson, who asked the candidates their views on improving education in the city, addressing economic development and community safety during the 90-minute forum.

Several candidates voiced support for a referendum the Evanston/Skokie District 65 School Board voted to put on the April ballots that would raise property taxes in the city to address a multi-million dollar deficit.

If the referendum was voted down by Evanston residents, it would hurt minority students the most, Gaspard said.

“I will do whatever I can to help the kids,” he said.

Other candidates also emphasized the importance of closing the achievement gap between white students and students of color. Hagerty said that while the mayor has little power over the school districts, they can help coordinate efforts.

“What can we do to close that gap? I think we can have a mayor that can work with all the silos in town,” he said.

Hagerty also said he would focus on economic development as a way to grow the tax base and increase tax-based funding for schools.

Tendam said he would focus on improving city resources for youth, such as upgrading the Evanston’s park programming and coordinating joint programs between the city’s institutions. The city may need to “think out of the box” to address the issue, he said.

“We are (one of) the smartest and best-educated communities in America, and we can make our schools systems equally as smart,” he said.

The candidates were also asked about what they would do to foster economic development in the city. Gaspard said he would focus on development in the 5th Ward by creating a tax increment financing district there and push for job creation programs.

Other candidates agreed businesses should be well-informed of the “unique character” of Evanston before moving, and the city should seek out businesses that would fit well within the community.

“Evanston is not going to bring a steel mill back here, orange crush and tinker toys aren’t coming back to Evanston,” Smith said. “Having a sense of history makes a real difference, gives us a sense of what Evanston can do.”

The mayoral primary election is scheduled for Feb. 28.

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Twitter: @noracshelly