2nd, 9th Ward City Council candidates discuss local issues at Community Alliance for Better Government forum


Daily file photo by Jacob Wendler

The Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center. Second and 9th Ward candidates for City Council spoke at a forum Saturday.

Aviva Bechky, City Editor

Candidates for the 2nd and 9th Ward City Council seats discussed housing, equity and community outreach at a virtual forum hosted by the Community Alliance for Better Government on Saturday.

In 2022, Mayor Daniel Biss appointed Ald. Krissie Harris (2nd) and Ald. Juan Geracaris (9th) to their current positions on City Council after each of their predecessors stepped down. Because the two were appointed, their seats are on the ballot in the April 4 consolidated election.

Harris will run against local activist Darlene Cannon and Lincoln Elementary School teacher Patricia Gregory, who was not present at the forum. Geracaris will run against Kathy Hayes, a retired case manager, social worker and analyst who worked with Cook County.

On Saturday, the four candidates present answered questions related to disability rights, the accessibility of mental health services to Spanish speakers, affordable housing and more. CABG President Lesley Williams said the organization sourced questions from local groups representing marginalized voices to ensure they would be heard in the City Council race.

Hayes spoke about the importance of developing more mentorship programs for Black Evanston residents, especially because some Black residents have been priced out of the city.

“A lot of African Americans feel a bit ignored by the community that they were raised in, that their history is in and that they have given a lot of their tax time and dollars to,” she said.

She said affordable housing is one of the most pressing issues facing Evanston.

Geracaris agreed. He was the only candidate at the forum to unequivocally say he supported Margarita Inn, a shelter for houseless individuals. City Council is expected to vote on whether to approve a special use permit for Connections for the Homeless to continue running the inn at an upcoming meeting.

[Read more about the community debate around Margarita Inn here.]

“I’m 1,000% in favor of the Margarita Inn,” Geracaris said. “I’ve visited. It’s great. They do house people with dignity.” 

In addition to supporting the Margarita Inn, Geracaris argued the city needs to change zoning practices that have historically been used to segregate. He said he is working to improve city zoning as a member of the Housing & Community Development Committee. Geracaris also said he is proud the city is buying property to use for affordable housing.

Regarding affordability in the city, candidates also answered a question about how the city can improve its development process following the construction of the Robert Crown Community Center, which cost more than $50 million to build.

Cannon said she would like to see future projects invest more in resources that every community member will use.

“We need to do a better job at community outreach and really listening and to what the community wants, and what is going to best fit the needs of the community as well,” Cannon said.

Cannon called the changing demographics of the city Evanston’s most pressing problem. The 2020 census found Evanston is currently 16.1% Black, compared to 22.5% in 2000, which multiple candidates attributed to gentrification and lack of affordability. Cannon is now advocating for an ordinance to prevent “predatory developers” from harassing residents, she said.

Cannon and every other candidate also discussed the importance of improving Spanish services as the city’s Latine population grows, increasing from 6.1% in 2000 to 11.8% in 2020.

Because the 2nd Ward is both economically and racially diverse, Harris said she prioritizes making sure all voices are heard, not just the loudest ones.

“Transparency is key,” Harris said. “Communication is key — being able to articulate the needs of everyone, not just individually.”

Early voting begins March 20. Election Day is April 4.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @avivabechky

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