2020 in Evanston headlines: COVID-19, a new city manager and municipal elections

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Daily file photo by Colin Boyle.

Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center. In 2020, Evanston selected a new city manager.

Jacob Fulton, Design Editor

With everything that’s happened in the past year, it’s hard to keep track of even the city’s biggest news. So The Daily Northwestern is here to remind you just how much went down over the past 12 months. Here are some of Evanston’s top stories from 2020 — and some threads to keep an eye on in 2021.

Cannabis legalization and reparations

In January 2020, state-wide cannabis legalization took effect, allowing residents over 21 to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis. In Evanston, a tax on recreational cannabis purchases will help supply the city’s reparations fund, which has a planned budget of $10 million.

According to a December Reparations subcommittee meeting, the city receives between $35,000 and $40,000 each month in revenue for the fund from cannabis sales at MedMen, Evanston’s only dispensary. That monthly income could increase as the dispensary has plans for an expansion.

One of the earliest facets of the city’s reparations program is a restorative housing initiative, which the subcommittee is currently developing. Other elements of the program will be discussed and implemented in the coming months.

COVID-19 comes to Evanston

In March, COVID-19 struck Evanston. The city saw its first confirmed case at Northwestern University on March 13. Evanston’s first COVID-19 death was a senior citizen living in a nursing home, who passed away March 23.

Mayor Steve Hagerty declared a state of emergency March 15, and the city implemented a mask mandate April 23. Since the start of the pandemic, the city has seen 3,317 total cases and 98 deaths, as of Jan. 10.

Since mid-December, Evanston has received 3,550 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and has been distributing the majority of the doses to frontline health care workers. The city will continue to distribute vaccines throughout 2021.

The fight for racial justice

Amid a nationwide racial reckoning, Evanston residents grappled with the impact of policing on their city. Local activist group Evanston Fight for Black Lives formed at the start of the summer and has since led a push to defund the Evanston Police Department.

Back in July, a majority of the city’s aldermen committed to defunding the police, yet the city’s 2021 budget didn’t see any significant decreases in police funding.

In 2021, the city is working to implement a pilot program that will explore alternative methods of policing, though the project has come under fire for its plan to draw money from the Human Services budget instead of EPD’s budget.

Erika Storlie selected as new City Manager

In September 2019, Wally Bobkiewicz vacated the Evanston City Manager position. In the subsequent months, the city began to take steps to search for its next candidate, hiring Illinois-based job search agency GovHR USA in January 2020. Then, COVID-19 hit.

Because of the pandemic, the city put its search on pause, altering the timeline for a June start. However, in May, City Council introduced a resolution to halt the public search process and directly appoint Erika Storlie, then the interim city manager, to the role. After public outcry, the resolution was withdrawn, and the search process continued over the summer.

The city held multiple events during which officials allowed for resident input, and in early October, GovHR announced three finalists for the role. Soon after, it was announced that Storlie was the city’s final choice for the role. She was confirmed for the position on Oct. 19, and sworn in on Oct. 28.

Evanston votes blue in 2020 election

In November, Evanston voters took to the polls, where they overwhelmingly supported Democratic candidates. The county — along with the rest of Illinois — was called for President-elect Joe Biden early on election night, though final results in other states would take days to trickle in.

Additionally, Evanston re-elected U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Evanston) for a 12th term, and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill) won re-election for a fifth term. State Reps. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz (D-Glenview) and Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston) were also re-elected.

Residents file for 2021 municipal elections

On Nov. 23, the filing period for Evanston’s municipal elections closed. Candidates filed ahead of this year’s February primaries and April general elections for races in all nine wards, as well as the mayoral and city clerk elections.

In the coming months, candidates will campaign through mostly virtual events and try to win the support of voters. At least two races will have guaranteed new winners, as Hagerty and Ald. Robin Rue Simmons (5th) have both decided not to run for re-election.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @jacobnfulton

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Summer in Evanston: City faces significant budget losses, Council discusses reimagining of EPD

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