Mayoral candidates discuss police reform, youth outreach in Evanston Live TV forum

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Daily file illustration by Jacob Fulton

The three Evanston mayoral candidates faced off in a virtual debate Tuesday night. Daniel Biss, who has secured endorsements from seven of nine City Council members, defended his record as a state legislator.

Jorja Siemons, Assistant City Editor

At a mayoral candidate forum Thursday, Willie Shaw, the political action and civic engagement chair for the Evanston/North Shore branch of the NAACP, asked mayoral candidates how they would distribute a $1 million grant for city services. 

Former State Sen. Daniel Biss said he would use the money for “emergency causes” such as assisting small businesses, helping families struggling to pay bills, and addressing the city’s budget problem. Lori Keenan, an activist and principal of a local woman-owned marketing and public relations firm, said she would use the money to supplement local programs targeting residents affected by current public health crises.  Finally, Purdue University junior Sebastian Nalls advocated for a startup fund to help 40 local minority-owned businesses. 

Hosted by Evanston Live TV owner Meleika Gardner in partnership with Evanston North Shore Branch NAACP, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., the event was a space for the nearly 100 attendees to ask the mayoral candidates their questions. 

Claire McFarland, a law attorney and chapter member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., kicked off the forum, inquiring about how candidates would work to improve relations between law enforcement and the Black and brown communities.

Biss advocated for both a civilian oversight board with the power to discipline officers, start investigations, and subpoena. He also said that there should be a community-wide discussion about data relating to Evanston police activity, traffic stops, and use-of-force. “We can sit down together and say, ‘are we moving in the right direction or the wrong direction?’”

Keenan also emphasized the importance of public information, and condemned the City’s “regressive” decision to give the Police Records Bureau the right to deal with FOIA requests and guard its own information. 

Nalls was in favor of reallocating city funds away from the police and toward social services. As a high school junior, police forcibly removed him from a local McDonald’s and threatened him with a trespassing charge after the restaurant made a call about obnoxious teenagers. 

At the end of the forum, several residents asked the candidates if they would implement a youth commission where middle and high school students would engage in local government matters. All three candidates agreed to approve a commission.

Biss said the youth advisory committee in the state legislature came up with impressive policy ideas under his tenure and impacted the way he approached his job. 

“It’s not just for the youth,” he said, about youth programming’s benefits. “It’s for us, too… People in this younger generation have a lot to teach us right now, and we ought to be listening.” 

Working with teenagers at the Evanston Parks and Recreation Department, Nalls said he sees value in their “fresh ideas.” 

A 20-year-old himself, he said while the main criticism he receives surrounds his age, he thinks it is time for younger generations to “step up” and be responsible for change. 

“This is their home as much as it is any one of ours,” Nalls said.

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @JorjaSiemons

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