As mayoral election approaches, students start to engage with local politics
February 21, 2017
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Adam Gross walked into an Evanston mayoral debate on Feb. 7 with no idea whom he would vote for. After the debate, not only had he made up his mind, but also he wanted to do more.
The Communication junior, along with Weinberg junior Raghav Narula, started NU Students for Brian Miller for Mayor, a Facebook page campaigning for the 9th Ward alderman in the upcoming election. They are part of a group of students who have taken a special interest in this year’s municipal elections in the wake of Donald Trump’s victory in November.
Ross Krasner, Associated Student Government vice president for community relations, said he has seen an increased interest in local politics from students since the presidential election.
“Many students were obviously disappointed with the outcome,” the Medill junior said. “They realized that involvement now is more important than ever, and local elections are certainly a very effective way of engaging in the political process and making a decision.”
City clerk candidate Devon Reid said a small group of students is working for his campaign and stressed the effect students can have on local elections.
“When Northwestern students are in town, they make up about 25 percent of the population,” he said. “Young folks and millennials make up 36 or 37 percent of the city, and young people, students being involved in the process is critical to making sure our democracy reflects our values.”
In the past, students have not played a very active role in local elections. Gross said he has observed that students tend not to engage in local politics, despite their potential influence. Northwestern has more than 8,000 undergraduate students on its Evanston campus.
But now, due in part to a renewed focus on local politics at the start of Trump’s administration, students are starting to engage with Evanston’s mayoral candidates. Both Miller and Steve Hagerty, another mayoral candidate, have groups of NU students helping to get them elected.
“There’s an increasing hunger among the student population to want to do something that could possibly affect society in general,” Gross said. “People are starting to realize that their vote literally means a ton.”
After the November election, McCormick senior Sean van Dril said he wanted to get involved after realizing how important local politics are. He reached out to all five mayoral candidates, but only Hagerty responded, van Dril said. After a meeting with Hagerty’s campaign manager, Van Dril decided to get involved and try to get his candidate elected.
Van Dril said students that haven’t previously engaged with local politics are finding that they’re more relevant now than ever.
“The issues that matter to us students at the national level, issues like social justice, diversity and inclusiveness, those kinds of things, they’re implemented at the local level,” he said. “The government that we interact with most on a day-to-day basis is the government here.”
Van Dril added that in this mayoral election, all five candidates, including Miller, Hagerty, Ald. Mark Tendam (6th), Gary Gaspard and Jeff Smith (Weinberg ’77), have similar political ideologies. Local officials should be accessible to their constituents, he said, and he felt Hagerty felt the most accessible to him.
Hagerty said students are constantly interacting with their local government in a variety of ways that are often overlooked.
“Walking on the sidewalk, crossing the street, streetlights, snow removal, the CTA — all these things the government is involved in and students interact with,” he said. “They may not realize it.”
Both Miller and Gross said social media is a particular aspect of campaigning that students can help with. Gross’ Facebook page has only been around for a little more than a week, but it has already garnered attention by relaying the video of Lawrence Crosby’s arrest that Miller pushed to have released earlier this year.
Hagerty said students are just as important to him as any other group of people.
“Students are just as much a constituency as any other constituency,” he said. “They come here and they live in our fine town for at least four years while they’re at Northwestern.”
Nora Shelly and Billy Kobin contributed reporting.