Two candidates — Peter Braithwaite and Darlene Murray Cannon — are running for 2nd Ward alderman in the April 6 general election.
Evanston Now asked Braithwaite and Cannon to respond to questions about several key issues in the city.
QUESTION: Do you support the 7% reduction in sworn police staffing approved 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?
BRAITHWAITE (Incumbent): Supported budget which included the cuts. Will have to evaluate if any further cuts should be done based on data, and if so, those cuts would be made by PD. If there are savings, will try to assign the money to “more prevention-oriented solutions,” such as social work response to calls involving the mentally ill and also developing more crime-prevention strategies.
CANNON: Supports the reduction, as it was done by not filling vacant positions. “Going forward, we need to live up to the standards we profess.” Possibly expand the alternative social work response program if pilot program succeeds. A lot of people misinterpret “defund the police.” Does not mean get rid of police but rather reallocate where sending social services is better than an armed officer.
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, or zoning changes?
CANNON: Favors incentives on case-by-case basis. Fast track business permits. “Cut through the red tape so businesses can thrive once again.” Parking discounts to attract people to downtown. “People love Evanston. We don’t want businesses moving to the next town because they don’t have all the restrictions we do.” Survey business needs.
BRAITHWAITE: “Beating COVID has been our first priority in getting our businesses open.” Has supported a COVID spending initiative, where certain city purchases (under $20,000) can be made with local businesses. Partner with D202, D65, and NU to increase the purchasing impact. With exception of TIF, not in favor of any tax breaks for the foreseeable future. Proponent of “smart development that creates job opportunities and adds to our tax base.”
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?
BRAITHWAITE: Inclusionary housing ordinance has limited impact, and “clearly this will not help us provide all the stock we need.” Need changes in the ordinance to encourage “creative solutions” such as accessory dwelling units. Explore “tiny houses.” Look for an approval process to expedite acceptable prefab homes (like “Lego” blocks) which would have to fit on a footprint of a property lot. Would support sale of Civic Center if we were to “prioritize housing with affordable housing options.”
CANNON: Inclusionary housing ordinance needs to be strengthened. When developers want to build high rises, we need to ask “what does the community need,” vacant luxury units or 2-3 unit structures for families? Need “honest conversations” with developers. Tell them what we need and “don’t just go along.” Keep negotiating until we reach what is needed, or as close as possible.
QUESTION: Do you think the recent 1% property tax increase, the lowest in many 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 such as the Civic Center?
CANNON: Tax increase in the midst of a pandemic is wrong “when people are food insecure and losing their jobs.” Biggest resource to avoid cuts is NU, which by law does not pay property taxes, but could ask for money beyond the Good Neighbor Fund to “relieve some of the pressure on the hard-working taxpayers of Evanston.” “No need to rush” on sale of Civic Center/should be reviewed by next council. If city hall is moved downtown, that could make it “less accessible for low-income people.”
BRAITHWAITE: “Fought very hard to the bitter end to hold the line on taxes.” At least was able to get the increase down to 1%. One thing which is clear is “how much our Evanston residents value our city services.” Going after NU would just be “wasting money with lawyers.” Looking forward to holding the line on taxes and seeking new revenue sources. Explore selling unutilized city assets which will “generate cash and restore those properties to the tax base.” (See earlier question for comments on Civic Center).
QUESTION: Do you favor increasing the reparations fund/program, leaving it the same, reducing it, or even eliminating it?
BRAITHWAITE: On reparations subcommittee. Favors expanding the reparations income base in addition to the City’s $10M cannabis tax revenue. “Committed to pursuing private funds and support from local business community.” (Example- Temperance Brewery sales to the fund). Some advocates want cash instead of housing assistance, but cash benefits are taxed. “Part of the challenge” is outlining what is do-able. More dispensaries will add to the $10M. Three goals: housing (find local bank to work with families getting the $25,000 grants); then economic development (“If our community at large is hurting then black businesses are hurting more;” and education.
CANNON: Reparations process is “historic,” but “a lot of things need to be changed.” Housing aspect is no different than first-time home buyers’ program. No need to rush into this, but rather “go back to the drawing board and take the input of residents” once the new council is in office. Re-look at the data, have community meetings to learn about what residents say is needed to help families impacted by redlining and predatory lending. “More work needs to be done.”
QUESTION: Are there any Ward-specific issues you would like to mention?
CANNON: Major concern in ward is safety due to “volume of traffic.” Near ETHS and King Arts (before the pandemic when schools were in session), people were “blowing stop signs and speeding in areas where there are children.” Residents who live near ETHS have to pay an additional fee to ensure they can park in front of their own homes because some students don’t want to use the school lot. This needs to be changed.
BRAITHWAITE: #1 issue is “getting through the pandemic.” Also neighborhood safety, helping vulnerable families, economic development and affordable housing.
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 the way things are? If you are an incumbent, do the survey results indicate that changes are not needed?
BRAITHWAITE: “You and I both know how much Evanston residents value services.” But services must be provided with equity. Need to “make sure we are taking care of all of our residents with the same kind of service.”
CANNON: Concerned about “the next generation living here.” City needs to better inform residents of services and issues. “So many seniors don’t know how to get on Zoom.” Zoom events should be translated into other languages. Provide welcome packets with info about city services.