Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Biss talks hard ‘judgment calls’ as mayor with ASG senators

Shun Graves/The Daily Northwestern
Mayor Daniel Biss walked into Norris University Center on his way to a discussion with NU’s Associated Student Government.

Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss spoke about making challenging “judgment calls” on divisive issues and joked about his time as a state legislator in a discussion with NU’s Associated Student Government Wednesday night.

Wearing a casual pullover and patterned green socks, Biss spoke with ASG senators about taking risks as a leader and ticking off milestones throughout his political career. His hourlong talk took place amid a tumultuous moment in town-gown relations, but Biss did not directly mention the still-brewing Ryan Field controversy during his talk.

“Sometimes there will be times where you don’t feel that community support, and then you start to make a judgment call,” Biss said. “Are you willing to do what you believe to be the right thing, which is consistent with the long-term goals of the community?”

In November, Biss cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the contentious plan to rebuild and host concerts at Northwestern’s football stadium — a decision which drew criticism from residents and local activists. He told The Daily after the meeting that the Ryan Field vote counted among his hard judgments.

During the meeting, he also discussed the Margarita Inn, a controversial shelter operated by Connections for the Homeless. Despite initial pushback from some residents, people eventually “came around” to supporting a permanent shelter there, he said.

Biss’ talk spanned the breadth of his political experience. Prior to his entry into politics, he served as an assistant math professor at the University of Chicago. Biss recalled how he lost his first bid for the Illinois House in 2008 and went on to serve several years in both houses of the state legislature.

“I wound up where I was in the legislature because I absolutely got in a race that I had no business being in,” Biss said, jokingly referring to his first election. “But because of the thing that I never could have predicted — namely somebody else’s retirement two years later — it positioned me to wind up in the legislature.”

Biss also ran unsuccessfully for Illinois governor in 2018 before assuming his current role as Evanston’s mayor in 2021

ASG senators remarked that while Biss does not come from a public policy background, he constantly strives for “good town-gown relations.” 

“He didn’t start out as a politician. It’s something that he was drawn to,” said SESP senior and Speaker of the Senate Leah Ryzenman. “I really admire the way that he talked about when making decisions, being able to kind of prioritize the right thing to do.”

Biss added that the key to maintaining community relations comes from being “respectful of the will of the majority” while tending to the other side’s concerns.

SESP junior and NU College Democrats representative Aimee Resnick said the mayor’s appearance at the Senate meeting showcased his efforts to engage with the Northwestern community.

“I’d love to see Northwestern (in a place) where it’s not a big deal to see the mayor on campus,” Resnick said. “I think it just goes to show that he is a member of the Northwestern community, just as Northwestern students are members of the Evanston community.”

During a question-and-answer session, Biss riffed about his qualms with the political system. At one point, Biss listened as an ASG senator explained how each NU school receives representation proportional to its student population.

“So it’s really not a senate at all, it’s more of a house,” Biss responded. “For the record, the U.S. Senate should not exist, so you guys are on the right track.”

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