Two candidates — Judy Fiske and Clare Kelly — are running for 1st Ward alderman in the April 6 general election
Evanston Now asked Fiske and Kelly to respond to questions about several key issues in the city.
QUESTION: Do you support the 7% reduction in sworn police staffing implemented as pat of the budget by City Council? Do you favor more police staffing reductions in the future, and, if so, what would you do with the money should there be any savings?
FISKE (incumbent): Voted for budget which also includes pilot program for alternative (social work) responses for calls involving mentally ill. = “Really important to re-imagine policing/excited to see results of pilot program.” PD staffing now at bare minimum, so further cuts could be negative. Some citizens concerned about out-of-town officers (NIPAS) coming to Evanston. “Our police officers know Evanston.” Asked Chief if PD added staff would we need NIPAS? “Could we do better if we had more officers?”
KELLY: Supports “potential restructuring.” In some other places have seen a reduction in crime and cost savings if reallocate some police funding to social services. “Absolutely we need to look at what other cities have done.” Supports the pilot program/alternative response. Would also like to see a “very robust youth outreach program on the streets.” Used to have more people doing this. Especially important now in the wake of the fatal shooting of two ETHS graduates.
QUESTION: What specific steps, if any, can be taken to help Evanston businesses recover from the pandemic? Separate from the pandemic, what steps can be taken to improve the local economy? Do you favor the use of incentives such as tax breaks, subsidies, and zoning changes?
KELLY: “A lot of innovative measures” that could have been taken were not. “I’m all about investing in our small businesses.” City could purchase gift certificates for local restaurants, or items like outdoor heaters. Look at the “architecture of downtown”/make some streets pedestrian only. More leniency in terms of fees and permits, “and not just saying no because that’s how it’s been done in the past.” If city subsidy is used, need a plan and process.
FISKE: Need new anchors downtown to bring “more feet on the street.” Understands this as former small business owner. Wants 1-2 moderately sized Class A office buildings, which are “COVID-ready,” with things like windows which can open. Office bldgs. pay higher tax rate than residences. Need to “rethink how we raise revenue downtown.” Could lure businesses/office workers from Chicago who want downtown environment but not in Chi. “Can’t continue to raise taxes and fees.” Need revenue to pay for social programs.
QUESTION: What specific programs, if any, do you favor to increase the amount of affordable housing in Evanston, and should any city subsidy be involved?
FISKE: Focus on affordable housing in neighborhoods citywide. Most development is downtown, but many families want to live in neighborhoods. Affordable units in high rises often too small. Need more 3BR. Use affordable housing fund differently. City should be open to buying 2-3 flat units. If did so, should be affordable “in perpetuity” rather than reverting to market rate after a number of years, “otherwise it’s not terribly meaningful.”
KELLY: Need “stronger inclusionary housing ordinance” to send a message to developers. No less than 10% of units in a planned unit development should be affordable. “Developers are not going to walk away” if city insists on that, and on affordable units for families, not just studios and 1BR. Can have beautiful and affordable housing. Avoid payment in lieu, stick to units on the specific site. Need affordable units near transit.
QUESTION: Do you think that the recent 1% property tax increase, the lowest in years, was too high? If you would like a tax cut, what services would you reduce due to lower revenue. Do you see any untapped sources of revenue, including the sale of city assets?
KELLY: “Any tax increase is too much in this city.” Says there was money available to prevent cuts without raising taxes, such as from fleet services. “We have wasted tax dollars” on things like certain lawsuits and over-spending on Crown Center. Form joint task force with NU to work out a payment in lieu of taxes plan. Not about “going after NU” but rather would be the “best thing for town-gown relations”. Look at Boston for potential PILOT model.
FISKE: Determine if the asset is useful to city vs expense of maintenance. Cost-benefit analysis per potentially sellable asset. “Time to do that.” If do decide to sell Civic Center, need to maintain surrounding parkland. Started last year with $20M shortfall/able to reduce it. Staff is “incredibly overloaded,” PD at bare minimum. Can’t keep raising taxes and fees. Voted against higher parking fees. Find other ways to raise funds. “It all comes back to revenue. I can’t make it any more simple than that.”
QUESTION: Do you favor increasing the reparations program/fund, leaving it the same, reducing it, or even eliminating it?
FISKE: “Incredibly proud” of the program, a “really important step for Evanston.” Needed to design it “so it could be defended in court,” hence link to housing. Community has been incredibly supportive in dedicating $10M in cannabis tax revenue. Interested in finding ways to increase revenue sources.
KELLY: “Firmly believe” in program. Some community concern that there has not been enough participation. “Should not move forward until this is appropriately addressed.” Willing to look for more $ but the program must be “embraced by the community,” otherwise “stop and do it right.”
QUESTION: Are there any Ward-specific issues you would like to mention?
KELLY: Need tougher response to landlord code violations. Fine them for first violation, “put their feet to the fire.” Downtown (“in dire straits”) in the ward, so downtown economic issues are significant. “Look at every possible option.” Easier parking. Plans a monthly zoom session as a “meet and greet” for local merchants and potential customers.
FISKE: Remind people that downtown is an “economic driver” of the community. Work with NU to try to align student on-campus behavior rules to off-campus (example: beer pong banned on campus). In some cases, consider rezoning so absentee landlords can’t “pack students into houses.” Will “stand tough for the city and neighborhood” with NU. “Firm but fair.” If want tougher enforcement of three-unrelated/housing code, need more enforcement staff but that requires money.
QUESTION: A survey by Evanston Now about how well city government serves residents’ needs saw a majority of respondents saying they were at least reasonably satisfied, on a scale of 1-7. If you are a non-incumbent, how do you convince voters to elect you if many people are satisfied with how things are now? If you are an incumbent, do the survey results indicate that changes are not needed?
FISKE: Considering our staff challenges, response is “really good” to hear. “As an alderman I spend most of my time trying to help and let people know they are heard.” 311 has helped. “We lead the nation in transparency.”
KELLY: Don’t think anyone who responded wants to pay higher property taxes. Hard to live here financially for middle class, let alone for lower-income people. Believes in transparency and wants people to know that I will be a “good steward” of our budget.