Two candidates — Tom Suffredin and Katie Trippi — are running for 6th Ward alderman in the April 6 general election.
Evanston Now asked the candidates to respond to questions about several key issues in the city.
QUESTION: Do you support the 7% reduction in sworn police staff implemented 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?
SUFFREDIN (incumbent): Voted no on the budget for “a lot of reasons.” Must have a staffing study “based on industry best practices, and then have public discussion” on what should be done. “I support responsible levels of staffing for our current fiscal situation.” Must be collectively bargained. If EPD staff is cut, are we “inviting” the need for outside officers such as NIPAS, which some oppose? Supports mental health response team. “A better police department might cost more due to alternative models.”
TRIPPI: Supports the reduction as part of the budget. Need police staffing study to determine if there should be any future cuts, based on size of city, amount of crime. EPD needs to “understand the expectations and aspirations of Evanston.” “Hire more Evanston kids” to become cops and create incentives for them to live in the city. If there can be budgetary savings, first priority is to lower the tax burden. Supports non-profits/social workers handling some calls.
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?
TRIPPI: Helping businesses recover, especially minority-owned businesses, is “most essential work” for council. Ask business owners what they need, go “door to door” once it’s medically safe. “My mom owned a gift store for 30 years downtown and city never asked her.” Possible rent or parking relief for couple of months. “Absolutely OK” for tax breaks, subsidies, zoning changes to help local businesses. “We have to do what we can to ensure their survival.” Businesses are the key to our tax base.
SUFFREDIN: “Supporting existing businesses and making sure they get through this” is a big priority. Possibly waive parking fees in city garages or refund fees in return for minimum store purchase. “I’d trade increased sales tax revenue for lower parking revenue.” Need more public restrooms downtown, both for shoppers and the homeless. Larger stores which had them are gone. Ease up on parking tickets to help restaurants. Getting ticket after an evening out “crushes the whole experience.” “Listen to businesses on what they need and do what we can to facilitate that.” Open to zoning changes.
QUESTION: What specific programs, if any, do you favor to increase the amount of affordable housing in Evanston, and should there be any city subsidy involved?
SUFFREDIN: “We have limited funds and nearly unlimited needs.” Zoning changes OK if affordability is a priority. Can incentivize accessory dwelling units on a neighborhood basis. Possibly do alley paving if such units added. Rule change stalled on three-unrelated individuals in one dwelling but understands opposition near NU. If city subsidy puts a project “over the top” it could be a worthwhile expenditure. HACC building was a “big win” because it was done without city money.
TRIPPI: This issue “gets to the heart of what our community wants to be.” Costs force seniors out and prevent young people from moving in. Affordable housing fund should be tapped for different size affordable units. “Small units” do not solve our problem. Distribute affordable housing throughout the city. OK on 2-3 flat units in single family zones. Housing is not the only way Evanston is not affordable for some -– parking fees, vehicle taxes.
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?
TRIPPI: Always look for more revenue. Raising property taxes is a last resort. OK with looking at sale of Civic Center. “The old model of the huge Civic Center with all the offices is out of date.” Not centrally located and hard to get to via transit. Some city offices can be in various places around town, or in some cases work can be done from home. OK with potential sale of North Branch Library too. Selling assets not generally something to solve a year’s budget problems, but in this immediate situation of post-COVID recovery it’s acceptable. Would have supported current council budget, possibly using more of rainy day fund.
SUFFREDIN: 1% increase better than originally proposed, but tax increase “irresponsible in a pandemic.” Civic Center is an emotional issue for some, but need to look at whether “a 100 year old converted school building is the most efficient use” of tax dollars. Some work can be done remotely, or at spread out locations. Can be a lot of savings from consolidating city assets. Should try to leverage more money from NU. Not a cure-all, but the city has been “too deferential” in trying to get revenue from the university. If the public willing to accept fewer city services, need “emotionless” discussion on how that would be done. “We’re pretty lean and responsible with taxpayer dollars now.”
QUESTION: Do you favor increasing the reparations program/fund, leaving it the same, reducing it, or even eliminating it?
SUFFREDIN: “It has to be increased,” but at this point don’t know the source of more money. Perhaps city asset sales. Afraid the $10M plan may not cover all potentially eligible residents. Voted “no” on the overall budget with reparations in it, but that was out of concern over lack of clarity on meeting the financial goals — who is eligible, how many, where will enough money come from. Voted “yes” on feasibility study on implementing reparations, which was a “values vote.” Regarding Trippi’s criticism of his “no” vote on budget with reparations in it: “That’s her one issue. She doesn’t have anything else to talk about.”
TRIPPI: Suffredin’s vote “is the reason I got into this race.” His vote is not how she would govern. “You cannot stop an idea before you’ve begun to explore it.” Absolutely 100% in favor of reparations. Fund-raiser by trade, optimistic that there are individuals and foundations and grants which can add to fund. Would play “active role” in trying to find such money. Prioritize minority—owned cannabis businesses to help community and also increase cannabis tax revenue for reparations. Don’t know if there will be another “windfall” revenue opportunity such as legal cannabis.
QUESTION: Are there any 6th Ward-specific issues you would like to mention?
TRIPPI: Supporting the small businesses on Central Street. “I welcome more development” but it must be responsible and in scale the community. Need creative parking solutions –- perhaps a certain number of spaces should be required of developers such as is done downtown. “I have a different world view, outlook, and people skills than my opponent does. What excites Tom Suffredin about this job?”
SUFFREDIN: “I appreciate her concern” (sarcastic). “What excites me is the opportunity to help keep Evanston a viable place to live.” Ward specific — hope to re-engineer the Gross Point Road, Central Street, Crawford Avenue traffic intersection. Would like an indoor city facility in ward. Make sure “we don’t get stiffed” because not centrally located. Improve crosswalks and park drainage. Deal with leaf blower noise, a “classic suburban issue.”
QUESTION: A survey by Evanston Now about how well city government serves residents’ needs saw a majority of residents 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 going now? If you are an incumbent, do the survey results indicate that changes are not needed?
SUFFREDIN: While people may be generally satisfied, there are “recurring complaints” about things such as unpaved alleys, leaf blower noise, driveways being plowed in and missed garbage pickup. “We could do a better job addressing the chronic stuff.” Regularly checks 3-1-1 reports to get a sense of what complaints are coming in.
TRIPPI: We have an “amazing city staff, the superstars who make the town run.” Very happy to hear about level of public satisfaction as expressed in survey. “I will be incredibly responsive” to citizen concerns.