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 recaps testy year, looks ahead to Evanston’s future in State of the City address

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Shun Graves/The Daily Northwestern
Mayor Daniel Biss delivered his State of the City address at Evanston SPACE on Wednesday.

After a year marked by testy debates over Ryan Field and city responsiveness, Mayor Daniel Biss lauded a benefits pact with Northwestern and called on Evanston to continue advancing on priorities like affordable housing in his annual State of the City address.

In front of about a hundred people on Wednesday, Biss rattled off recent policies like a flavored tobacco ban, modified guaranteed income program and community responder initiative as evidence of an effective city government.

“As I think about the situation that we find ourselves in Evanston — the opportunities that are before us and the challenges that we face — what I see as most necessary is for us to break out of this prison of a system that makes bold action so very difficult,” he said on a stage at Evanston SPACE.

With Dave Davis, NU’s senior executive director of neighborhood and community relations, in the audience, Biss recounted a long history of “tension” between the city and the University.

Last fall, NU’s proposal to rebuild Ryan Field and host public-facing concerts drew criticism from residents who long scorned the University’s tax-free status and use of city resources. Yet after negotiations with the city, NU proposed a $150 million community benefits agreement that ultimately led to City Council’s narrow approval of the Ryan Field plans.

“We were able this year to negotiate an agreement to fundamentally transform the financial relationship between the city and the University, to bring in ongoing funding for at least 15 years, unlike anything that the University has done for the city before,” Biss said.

Some residents called the pact lackluster, and the Most Livable City Association sued the city, claiming it engaged in “secret negotiations” in NU’s favor. The group has focused its ire on Biss, nicknaming him “Tiebreaker Dan” online for his tie-breaking vote to approve the contentious zoning change.

An Evanston resident announced a still-inactive campaign to topple Biss should he run for reelection. Besides the “Better than Biss” effort, nobody has yet declared a campaign for mayor.

Biss told The Daily he has not decided whether he’ll run. Still, in his final State of the City before the 2025 mayoral election, he riffed more generally about the race while referring to the city’s plan to introduce public funding for candidates.

“This was like an anti-incumbent mayor initiative, basically,” he said jokingly. “So get your petitions ready.”

Biss also addressed debates around the war in Gaza, recounting how two Evanston residents were taken hostage by Hamas on Oct. 7 and later released. At the same time, a group of Evanston residents has pushed for City Council to approve a ceasefire resolution.

The mayor said he supported the residents’ right to protest and advised against demonstration-related arrests. But he also said the resolution, which the council has not brought up, would “create division.”

“What we would’ve done is picked at wounds in our community, pitted people against one another, made us less clear about what our values are and weakened us in our efforts to then be able to address the next problem that comes up,” Biss said.

The mayor closed with his own vision for development in Evanston, emphasizing the importance of cutting past red tape in politics.

Biss said the Envision Evanston 2045 zoning and planning overhaul would serve as a “game changer” for high-density and transit-oriented development — a “yes in my backyard” mindset he further explained in an op-ed printed in Wednesday’s Chicago Tribune.

Cook County Commissioner Josina Morita and several councilmembers watched Biss’ address. But unlike last year, University President Michael Schill did not attend.

“I agree with the mayor that the package that we were able to negotiate with Northwestern is historic,” Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) told The Daily after Biss’ address. “And it’s an accomplishment that I’m proud of — that I think we can all be proud of.”

The mayor also mentioned the migrant crisis, sustainability goals and the Civic Center’s upcoming move to downtown Evanston as important issues for the future. He described continuing attempts by city staff to identify a suitable building that would house migrants.

Biss can now step back and look at his accomplishments, said former mayor Steve Hagerty, who also attended.

“If you look at his campaign account, if you look at the speech he gave today, there’s a clear indication that he has a strong vision for Evanston and a real commitment to seeing things through,” Hagerty said.

Email: [email protected]

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