Veteran 8th Ward alderman has no plans to stop

Ald. Ann Rainey.  Rainey has led the Eighth Ward for 34 of the last 38 years.

Photo courtesy of Ann Rainey

Ald. Ann Rainey. Rainey has led the Eighth Ward for 34 of the last 38 years.

Joshua Irvine, Reporter

After the better part of forty years, Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) still really likes her job.

 “I’m a happy camper,” the alderman said.  “I just hope my constituents are.”

Rainey is the longest-serving alderman in Evanston history. After moving to the Eighth Ward in 1979, she was first elected in 1983 and has held office for all but four years since.

Her fellow aldermen credit her for her depth of knowledge and commitment to her ward. In recent years, she’s spearheaded the economic revitalization of Howard Street and proposed the plan currently bankrolling the city’s unprecedented reparations program. 

But she’s also gone against a council majority to challenge the youth-led movement to defund the Evanston Police Department, and in 2021, she faces as many as five challengers for her seat, more than in any other race.

However, Rainey doesn’t plan on giving up her seat just yet.

“As of now, I’m on a roll, and I have no intention of quitting,” Rainey said.   

Great Eight

The Great 8th message board, an online forum active for almost a decade now, testifies to Rainey’s commitment to her ward. The site holds 41,000 pages of electronic exchanges between the alderman and residents.  

Recently, she’s reposted a link advertising information on the city’s vaccination process, promoted the newly founded Evanston Performing Arts Collective, and organized a meeting with Chicago Transit Authority officials after residents complained about noise from the Yellow Line.

“She’s the best in the game for getting back to them,” said Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd).

Chief to Rainey’s advocacy for her ward is the Howard Street corridor, where for years she’s corralled city and federal funds to bring business back to the city’s southern border. 

That support shows no sign of abating.  In an interview with The Daily, Rainey said she planned to prioritize the economic recovery of Howard Street after the coronavirus pandemic devastated businesses across the city, characterizing the corridor as key to her ward’s morale. 

She highlighted a 60-unit affordable housing development for seniors that broke ground in November as well as a project to resurface and improve pedestrian and vehicle traffic along Howard that stalled when the pandemic hit.

Rainey also expects her residents to receive support from the recently-approved grant providing rent assistance to residents, which is projected to largely go toward the 5th and 8th wards.  

She also said she would advocate to expand the tax base to bankroll social services and mental health programs.  

Outside her ward, Rainey has been one of the earliest advocates for the city’s reparations program, serving along with Ald. Robin Rue Simmons (5th) as the original members of the council subcommittee. Rainey proposed the city direct revenues from the new cannabis tax toward reparations programs, the first of which is expected to support some prospective and current Black homeowners.  

 “Ald. Rainey was the first to raise her hand in support and to partner with me to advance that policy,” Simmons said. “She commits to a cause and sees it through.”

Rainey and policing

Rainey has drawn fire for her continued support for the city’s police department despite local and nationwide protests following the police murder of George Floyd.  

Last summer, Rainey was one of four aldermen who declined to support defunding the Evanston Police Department, a decision that led to her residence being the first stop in a sit-in organized by Evanston Fight for Black Lives in November 2020.

Rainey said her support for the police department has not lessened, praising EPD for “putting an end” to the shooting spree of Jason Nightengale, who allegedly killed four people, including an Evanston woman, before being gunned down by Evanston police on Jan. 9.   

Her opponent, city clerk Devon Reid, has criticized her support for the police as a remnant of the “Reagan-Clinton prison complex” and characterized the 8th Ward as “among the most ticketed, fined and fee’d” in Evanston.    

Rainey’s stance puts her at odds with close collaborators like Simmons, who was the second to support defunding EPD. In an interview with The Daily, Simmons said it was important the Eighth Ward alderman support defunding, though she noted there are “varying definitions” for defunding.

Rainey has admonished the Council majority, who said they would defund, as having made a disingenuous commitment, pointing out the city had not significantly reduced police expenditures in its 2021 budget. While she said she could come to support proposals from the alternative emergency response subcommittee launched in September, she would not support defunding the police to do so.  

She said people should not conflate “minor incidents,” like the forceful tackling and arrest of Trent Hunt by officers earlier this year, with police shootings.  

“If a police department is having problems, what needs to happen is they need to be improved and repaired,” Rainey said.  

38 years, only one loss

In 38 years of local politics, Rainey has only ever lost one race, an unsuccessful bid for mayor in 1993 that pitted her against then-5th Ward Ald. Lorraine Morton. Morton went on to serve for 16 years, becoming the longest-serving mayor in Evanston history as well as the city’s first Black and first Democratic mayor. 

But after running uncontested since 2005, Rainey narrowly defeated challenger Rob Bady in a 2017 runoff, eking out a 13-vote lead, which was by far the closest race on the ballot.  

This year, there will be three names on the ballot: Rainey, Reid and Matthew Mitchell, Ridgeville Park District commissioner, as well as write-ins Shelley Ann Carillo, Joshua Hall, and Christine Leone.

To call it an intimidating race would be an understatement. But Rainey understands the appeal.

“To be an official in a city like Evanston is an honor,”  Rainey said.  “Not everybody gets that privilege.”

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @joshuajirvine

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