Juan Geracaris has been the 9th Ward alder for about a year, and wants to stay in office.
“I’m someone who gets things done,” Geracaris said in a recent League of Women Voters forum for the 9th Ward city council candidates.
Kathy Hayes wants the position that Geracaris now holds.
“I’m open to the issue of change,” she said.
Geracaris and Hayes square off on April 4, with the Election Day winner getting a two-year position on the City Council.
The slot is for two years rather than four, because Geracaris was appointed in 2022 to fill a vacancy, so this election fills out the remainder of the term.
Questions were posed by a League of Women voters moderator.
In response to a query on crime, Geracaris said Evanston “is an overwhelmingly safe community,” but there have been troubling incidents of violence, which he said have been “scary things.”
He said that more youth services and outreach, along with social service programs in general, are required for an “all hands on deck” approach.
Hayes agreed that more social services are needed, but also said “people do violent things and crime because they are economically oppressed.”
Overall economic opportunity and growth, she noted, are a critical way to reduce the number of people turning to crime.
Although the question did not specifically deal with the size of the police department, neither candidate said anything about ongoing understaffing, and whether having fewer police officers has meant an increase in violent crime.
As you might expect, Northwestern University’s proposal for a new Ryan Field football stadium, while not in the 9th Ward, was also on the list of questions. City Council has final say on whether the project ever happens.
However, because he works for Northwestern, Geracaris recuses himself from any votes on university matters.
In general, though, Geracaris said he always shares constituent views on the project with the mayor and city manager, for their talks with the university.
He also said NU is undergoing a “reset” with its new president, and he hopes that will lead to a “more symbiotic relationship” with the city.
Hayes said posturing by both sides in the stadium controversy is not helpful.
“Summations and guessing do not serve a community well. You’re dividing the community this way,” she added, noting that city and NU officials need to “sit down in a non-screaming way” to work out stadium related issues. She did not say how she might vote on the stadium if elected, although that specific aspect of the Ryan Field issue was not in the wording of the question.
When asked what are the three top challenges facing the city, Geracaris said affordable housing, climate action, and finances.
Despite the specific phrasing of the question asking for three challenges, Hayes only gave one, the budget.
If budget cuts are needed, Geracaris said he would look first to capital projects, not social services.
Hayes sais she wants to see a specific budget proposal before drawing conclusions.
Both candidates stressed the importance of equity, and also said potential changes in the zoning code could make it easier to bring affordable housing into neighborhoods that now skew towards single family dwellings.
Geracaris indicated an interest in the proposed deconversion ban, which would prevent turning small apartment buildings into single family houses.
Hayes also said that economically mixed neighborhoods “could be the key to bringing people back to Evanston.”
As for issues specific to the 9th Ward, Geracaris noted environmental justice, citing fumes and gases from industrial sources. He also said a business in the Home Depot shopping center has agreed to put in a fence to prevent garbage from blowing into the community.
Geracaris said parking at the Robert Crown Center has become a problem, and there is a study under way to see who is parking at Crown for how long. Depending on the study’s results, Geracaris said it might lead to charging non-residents to park there, similar to what is being done at city beaches.
Hayes said the upcoming redrawing of ward boundaries could have significance, and might even lead to the 9th Ward getting portions of a business district, which it does not currently have.