Two candidates — Nicholas Korzeniowski and Melissa Wynne — are running for 3rd Ward alderman in the April 6 general election.
Evanston Now asked Korzeniowski and Wynne to respond to questions about several key issues in the city.
QUESTION: Do you support the 7% reduction in sworn police staffing implemented by City Council? Do you favor more police reductions in the future, and if so, what would you do with the money?
WYNNE (Incumbent): Voted for budget which reduced staffing by eliminating/not filling vacancies. Supports the alternative response idea — social work responders for calls regarding mental illness. Currently $200,000 pilot program. See how that works out/expand if successful.
A lot of state- and federally-offered social services are no longer there. “We’ve left it to the police and they’re the call of last resort.” Need to “re-imagine public safety and security.” Put more social supports in place so perhaps person does not need to call 911.
KORZENIOWSKI: Look at police budget with cost/benefit approach before making more changes. Police cuts should “not be a punitive exercise for social retribution.” If there are budgetary savings, use the money for alternative response models such as social workers taking certain calls instead of PD. “If you can respond without an armed officer you are saving his/her time.” Current alternative pilot program is underfunded. Wants “fiscally responsible and reasonable” approach to police budget, not something which is ideologically driven.
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?
KORZENIOWSKI: Need “all hands on deck” approach for both post-pandemic and long-term economic growth. All options should be considered. Help merchants via parking holidays and/or making parking more affordable. Invest in municipal broadband. New businesses need to be connected. May be a costly initiative but will help pay for itself in the long run. Could involve NU to help with funding. “This has tangible life benefits for everyone involved.”
WYNNE: Evanston has used all the incentives before. A little “wary” of tax breaks, although “have to use every tool in the tool shed” due to unprecedented problems from pandemic. Use TIF dollars on an emergency basis for economic/business retention efforts. Help small businesses buy PPE in bulk and help them with required paperwork. Possibly bring Civic Center downtown. Will bring more workers who become shoppers and diners. “They would be a catalyst for other businesses to come.”
QUESTION: What specific steps, if any, should be taken to increase the amount of affordable housing in Evanston, and should any city subsidy be involved?
WYNNE: Need to search for revenue to beef up affordable housing fund. Is “biggest bang” rent subsidy or city assistance for housing rehab so landlords can rent out at lower costs? Push for development at underutilized parking lot at South Boulevard and Hinman Avenue for affordable housing. City should say “we need three-bedroom units” versus the one bedrooms which are often built. Work with Cook County to donate land for affordable housing, so cost for developer is reduced. Inclusionary housing ordinance has helped with in lieu of payments for off-site units. Possibly more money from Biden administration.
KORZENIOWSKI: We “spend a lot of time talking” about affordable housing, but not doing much. Sometimes inclusionary housing ordinance leads to “checking a box on a ledger” but not providing much which families need. Small things like graduating wheel tax based on personal income could help people have some additional income. Participatory budgeting where local communities have more input on affordable housing locations.
QUESTION: Do you think the recent 1% property tax increase approved by council, 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?
KORZENIOWSKI: Against the tax increase in the budget — ”bad idea during a pandemic.” NU should pay more for city services such as fire protection. This is an “ideal time to re-evaluate the relationship between the city and Northwestern.” Get something in return if NU wants, say, the right to use more land. Civic Center sale would depend if anything “extraordinary” could go there. Need a “sober minded adult in the room” to discuss such sale, “not somebody with a political axe to grind.”
WYNNE: Voted for the budget with the 1% increase. Got it down as low as possible. Any lower would have meant 25-30 job cuts and service reductions. “Did the very best we could to continue the services the city provides.” Look at city assets/”what makes sense for us to continue to own?” If sell, build up reserves or bring down debt, don’t use for day-to-day-expenses. NU is “difficult target” due to tax status, so must “build relationship of trust” to convince them to pay for things like fire service.
QUESTION: Do you favor increasing the reparations fund/program, leaving it the same, reducing it, or even eliminating it?
WYNNE: Current plan with cannabis tax revenue is first step. Must “tailor the program to withstand legal challenge,” such as by linking housing reparations payments to clear harm done by the City through redlining and zoning. First step on housing impact can be documented. Some may not like that, but must be able to deal with possible lawsuit. This is the first step in dealing with “400 years of harm.”
KORZENIOWSKI: Program now “in danger of veering off track.” Now more of just a housing program than anything else. Funded by tax revenue from cannabis tax, but “it shouldn’t be one entity’s job” to fund the whole thing. (Currently only one marijuana dispensary in town). Need to advocate for more dispensaries. “Let’s have the talk” on other potential sources of funding.
QUESTION: Are there any Ward-specific issues you would like to discuss?
KORZENIOWSKI: Leaf blowers are the “bane of our existence.” Laws are ignored, “treated as a joke.”
WYNNE: While many issues are citywide, need “smart development” on Chicago Avenue which enhances the community. Future of Nissan site. Work with Main-Dempster Mile association. “Do what’s necessary” to maintain the shoreline. “Catastrophic loss” to the community if beaches are not kept “open and available.”
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?
WYNNE: “Customer service is everything.” Must be nimble and listen to the residents — change and improve based on what they indicate. “Constant vigilance and constant improvement is the standard we need to have in the city.”
KORZENIOWSKI: If 70% are satisfied it means 30% are not. “If you’re doing all right, God bless you. But a lot of people are not.” Need someone who “advocates for the little guy.”