Constituents make proposals, voice concerns at state representative’s Evanston office hours


Clare Proctor/Daily Senior Staffer

Karen McCormick, state Rep. Robyn Gabel’s chief of staff, speaks with Wilmette resident John Plante at Gabel’s office hours Saturday. North Shore constituents had the opportunity to voice their concerns and make proposals to the office of their state representative.

Clare Proctor, Assistant City Editor

North Shore residents had the chance on Saturday to voice their concerns directly to the office of state Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston).

Gabel’s chief of staff Karen McCormick hosted public office hours at First Slice Pie Cafe, 1823 Church St. While Gabel typically hosts her office hours personally, McCormick said she filled in this Saturday because of a family emergency. Since 2010, Gabel has served as the state representative for Illinois’ 18th District, which includes Evanston, Wilmette and Winnetka, among other neighborhoods in the North Shore.

Hearing from her constituents is one of Gabel’s priorities, McCormick said.

“We like to have office hours all over the district to give people an opportunity to come out and express the things that they’re concerned about,” McCormick said, ”So Representative Gabel knows what’s going on and what she can do to help.”

Evanston resident James Genden said he is concerned that Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration might tax retirement income as a way to generate revenue for the state.

Though Pritzker’s initial budget proposal released Wednesday made no indication of removing the tax exemption for retirement income currently in place, 70-year-old Genden said he is concerned that his retirement funds could be taxed.

“I spent my entire life being very, very frugal,” Genden said. “I would put one-third of my income in tax-deferred retirement accounts. Now, the chickens are coming home to roost.”

Genden said he was also skeptical of state officials’ tax returns. He said Gabel should propose a law mandating that the top Illinois politicians release full tax returns to the public.

The current lack of transparency has led to conflicts of interest, Genden said, such as state Sen. John Cullerton’s (D-Chicago) alleged ownership interest in the development group motioning to pave over part of the Canal Shores Golf Course in Evanston and Wilmette. Cullerton serves as an attorney for Dick Keefe of the Dick Keefe Development Corporation, Larry Mages — the vice president of the board of the Evanston Wilmette Golf Course Association — previously told The Daily in November 2018.

Providing public tax returns is relevant to constituents to understand what these public officials are doing, Genden said.

“If you want public office and public trust, that’s a price you should pay,” Genden said.

Wilmette resident John Plante — who sits on the Metra board of directors — also proposed that Gabel advocate for a capital bill to provide funding for the public transit system.

Plante said Metra needs about $1.5 billion a year just to cover repairs to the transit system. Typically, the transit system has opted to repair old cars rather than to buy new ones “to make ends meet,” he said.

He said repairing old vehicles is especially challenging in extreme weather. Replacing air conditioning units in old train cars takes four days, Plante said, whereas the process takes only hours in the new cars.

Plante said he would like to turn the Union Pacific/North line — which runs through the North Shore — into an electric-powered train, but financial constraints limit this development.

“You can’t get much greener than that,” Plante said. “We’d like to do that, but the immediate financial needs are such that without substantial capital money, we’re not going to get it done.”

McCormick, the chief of staff, said she will present these concerns to Gabel and get back to constituents on potential future steps.

Ideas presented in meeting with 18th District constituents generate some of Gabel’s “best bills,” McCormick said.

“It’s a great opportunity to find out what people are doing,” McCormick said. “We actually have taken some of the ideas that people have brought into our office and turned them into legislation.”

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